‘You have a child who will call you “mama” ’: understanding adolescent pregnancy in South Sudan

Sumit Kane*, Esther Miedema, Marjolein Dieleman, Jacqueline Broerse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Pregnancy amongst adolescent girls is common in many parts of the world. The dominant discourse in public health unquestioningly paints this as a problem; it does not pay sufficient attention to girls’ views. Objectives: This paper presents a critical account of adolescent South Sudanese girls’ reasons for and explanations of childbearing. It discusses their experiences and views on childbearing and attempts to explain their reproductive choices and actions, in context. Methods: The study draws upon 24 interviews with adolescent boys, girls and parents from Wau, South Sudan. Data was analysed using the framework analysis approach. Results: Three interacting themes within which adolescent girls framed their views and decisions about childbearing are identified. The local society places high value on motherhood–adolescent girls’ desires to become mothers is a reproduction of this social norm. Girls linked having a child to the possibility of making one’s ‘own home’; in the difficult and uncertain context they lived in, for many girls, having a child (and making a home) appeared as one of the few means to be happy. In making the decision to bear a child, the girls navigated multiple dilemmas and trade-offs between an unpromising present and an uncertain future. Bearing a child and making one’s ‘own home’ was seen as a way to exit into the world of adults, and as a strategy towards achieving security and stability. Conclusions: Instead of simplistically problematizing adolescent pregnancy in South Sudan, it is important to take into account the experiences and standpoints of adolescent girls, and to recognize that in choosing to become mothers, they are in many ways exercising agency despite being severely constrained by complex, insecure and unfair social circumstances. We argue that such an approach will allow the development of more appropriate, realistic and inclusive health and social policies and programs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1553282
JournalGlobal Health Action
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Adolescent pregnancy
  • reproductive agency
  • reproductive health
  • South Sudan
  • teenage pregnancy


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