Adolescent pregnancy places girls at increased risk for poor health and educational outcomes that limit livelihood options, economic independence, and empowerment in adulthood. In Tanzania, adolescent pregnancy remains a significant concern, with over half of all first births occurring before women reach the age of 20. A participatory research and action project (Vitu Newala) conducted formative research in a rural district on the dynamics of sexual risk and agency among 82 girls aged 12-17. Four major risk factors undermined girls' ability to protect their own health and well-being: poverty that pushed them into having sex to meet basic needs, sexual expectations on the part of older men and boys their age, rape and coercive sex (including sexual abuse from an early age), and unintended pregnancy. Transactional sex with older men was one of the few available sources of income that allowed adolescent girls to meet their basic needs, making this a common choice for many girls, even though it increased the risk of unintended (early) pregnancy. Yet parents and adult community members blamed the girls alone for putting themselves at risk. These findings were used to inform a pilot project aimed to engage and empower adolescent girls and boys as agents of change to influence powerful gender norms that perpetuate girls' risk.
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