Previous studies have not synthesized existing literature on the lived experiences of pregnant and parenting adolescents (aged 10–19) in Africa. Such evidence synthesis is needed to inform policies, programs, and future research to improve the well-being of the millions of pregnant or parenting adolescents in the region. Our study fills this gap by reviewing the literature on pregnant and parenting adolescents in Africa. We mapped existing research in terms of their substantive focus, and geographical distribution. We synthesized these studies based on thematic focus and identified gaps for future research.
We used a three-step search strategy to find articles, theses, and technical reports reporting primary research published in English between January 2000 and June 2021 in PubMed, Jstor, AJOL, EBSCO Host, and Google Scholar. Three researchers screened all articles, including titles, abstracts, and full text, for eligibility. Relevant data were extracted using a template designed for the study. Overall, 116 studies met the inclusion criteria and were included in the study. Data were analyzed using descriptive and thematic analyses.
Research on pregnant and parenting adolescents is limited in volume and skewed to a few countries, with two-fifths of papers focusing on South Africa (41.4%). Most of the studies were African-led (81.9%), received no funding (60.3%), adopted qualitative designs (58.6%), and were published between 2016 and 2021 (48.3%). The studies highlighted how pregnancy initiates a cycle of social exclusion of girls with grave implications for their physical and mental health and social and economic well-being. Only 4.3% of the studies described an intervention. None of these studies employed a robust research design (e.g., randomized controlled trial) to assess the intervention’s effectiveness. Adolescent mothers’ experiences (26.7%) and their education (36.2%) were the most studied topics, while repeat pregnancy received the least research attention.
Research on issues affecting pregnant and parenting adolescents is still limited in scope and skewed geographically despite the large burden of adolescent childbearing in many African countries. While studies have documented how early pregnancy could result in girls’ social and educational exclusion, few interventions to support pregnant and parenting adolescents exist. Further research to address these gaps is warranted.