Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa)


Background: Adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) is a major public health concern in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, inequalities in ASRH have received less attention than many other public health priority areas, in part due to limited data. In this study, we examine inequalities in key ASRH indicators.

Methods: We analyzed national household surveys from 37 countries in SSA, conducted during 1990–2018, to exam- ine trends and inequalities in adolescent behaviors related to early marriage, childbearing and sexual debut among adolescents using data from respondents 15–24 years. Survival analyses were conducted on each survey to obtain estimates for the ASRH indicators. Multilevel linear regression modelling was used to obtain estimates for 2000 and 2015 in four subregions of SSA for all indicators, disaggregated by sex, age, household wealth, urban–rural residence and educational status (primary or less versus secondary or higher education).

Results: In 2015, 28% of adolescent girls in SSA were married before age 18, declined at an average annual rate of 1.5% during 2000–2015, while 47% of girls gave birth before age 20, declining at 0.6% per year. Child marriage was rare for boys (2.5%). About 54% and 43% of girls and boys, respectively, had their sexual debut before 18. The declines were greater for the indicators of early adolescence (10–14 years). Large differences in marriage and childbearing were observed between adolescent girls from rural versus urban areas and the poorest versus richest households, with much greater inequalities observed in West and Central Africa where the prevalence was highest. The urban– rural and wealth-related inequalities remained stagnant or widened during 2000–2015, as the decline was relatively slower among rural and the poorest compared to urban and the richest girls. The prevalence of the ASRH indicators did not decline or increase in either education categories.

Conclusion: Early marriage, childbearing and sexual debut declined in SSA but the 2015 levels were still high, especially in Central and West Africa, and inequalities persisted or became larger. In particular, rural, less educated and poorest adolescent girls continued to face higher ASRH risks and vulnerabilities. Greater attention to disparities in ASRH is needed for better targeting of interventions and monitoring of progress.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Reproductive Health

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.