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Unravelling the Identity Crisis: Empowering Adolescent Fertility Control

Author: Margarate N. Munakampe, PhD, is a Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Zambia, School of Public Health. She is an Implementation Science Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis and an Administrative Manager at IMPACT, an Implementation Science Center of Excellence at the University of Zambia. Additionally, she is a junior faculty member at the Afri-HIGH Implementation Research Institute, housed at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Zambia. She also volunteers as Policy and Planning Manager at Women in Global Health, Zambia Chapter. The opinions expressed here are her own. All photos are used with permission from the author.


The escalating rates of adolescent fertility in sub-Saharan Africa pose a significant challenge compared to other regions worldwide. With a large majority of young people residing in low and middle-income countries, the need to curb fertility rates among adolescents becomes more pressing than ever. Unfortunately, various factors perpetuate this crisis, ranging from limited access to necessities to transactional relationships driven by socio-economic hardships. However, at the core of this issue lies an identity crisis, fueled by competing moral identities that shape adolescent fertility and control decisions. To address this crisis effectively, it is essential to understand its impact on young people and their decision-making and to explore potential solutions that empower them.

The Complex Reality of Adolescent Fertility

In countries such as Mali, Niger, and Zambia, a staggering number of young people give birth before the age of 16 or during their teenage years. The consequences of early childbearing for both mother and child are dire, including health risks, limited opportunities for a better life, and perpetuation of the cycle of poverty. This alarming trend is exacerbated by the socio-economic challenges faced by young people, which drive them towards risky sexual relationships as a means of seeking temporary relief and hope for a brighter future. Unfortunately, these decisions often result in adverse outcomes, trapping adolescents in a cycle of limited opportunities and early pregnancies.

Competing Moral Identities and their Impact

The discourse surrounding adolescent fertility and control options is heavily influenced by competing moral identities. On the one hand, there is a recognition of the importance of sexual and reproductive health rights, which have been proven to improve health outcomes. However, certain religious perspectives view these rights as morally decadent, leading to conflicting attitudes and societal norms. While religious beliefs often grant more control within ordained marriages, early marriages are still prevalent as a means to mitigate the shame associated with pregnancies out of wedlock. These conflicting moral identities contribute to the identity crisis surrounding adolescent fertility, shaping opinions and attitudes in complex ways.

The Influence of Identity Crisis on Decision-Making

Psychological research emphasizes the significance of self-concept clarity, which refers to the stability, clarity, and confidence in one’s self-beliefs. Unfortunately, many adolescents lack this clarity, hindering their decision-making processes. Additionally, collective identity clarity, derived from knowledge of social group membership and associated values, plays a vital role in shaping perspectives. The absence of collective identity clarity exacerbates the identity crisis surrounding adolescent fertility, creating a complex web of attitudes, beliefs, and societal expectations. Consequently, young people may struggle to make informed decisions about fertility control, further perpetuating the cycle of high adolescent fertility rates.

Left to Right: Henry Mboyi, Buumba Nyirenda, Elizabeth Muchoma, Mwaka Kaani, Duma Mpoyane, Mbanandi Chiti, & Amos Sikaonga.

A Call to Action

We must address the identity crisis surrounding adolescent fertility and empower young people to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. By recognizing the complex interplay of moral identities and societal expectations, we can develop interventions that effectively support and educate adolescents. Here are some key actions that need to be taken:

Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Implement evidence-based, age-appropriate sexuality education programs that provide young people with accurate information about reproductive health, contraception, and the consequences of early childbearing.

Strengthening Healthcare Systems: Enhance access to affordable and quality reproductive healthcare services, including contraceptives, family planning, and antenatal care. This includes efforts to destigmatize seeking reproductive healthcare among adolescents.

Engaging Communities and Religious Leaders: Foster dialogue and collaboration between communities, religious leaders, and young people to bridge the gap between moral identities and reproductive health needs. Encouraging open discussions and challenging harmful traditional practices will contribute to a more supportive environment.

Empowering Youth Leadership: Amplify the voices of young people by involving them in decision-making processes and policy development related to adolescent fertility and control. By giving them a platform to express their perspectives and actively participate in shaping interventions, we can ensure that the solutions address their unique needs and aspirations.


The identity crisis surrounding adolescent fertility in sub-Saharan Africa demands urgent attention and action. By understanding the complex interplay of competing moral identities and their impact on young people, we can begin to unravel the barriers that hinder effective fertility control. Through comprehensive sexuality education, improved access to reproductive healthcare, community engagement, and empowering youth leadership, we can empower young people to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. By bridging the gap between moral identities and reproductive health needs, we pave the way for a future where adolescent fertility rates are reduced, providing young people with better opportunities for a fulfilling life. It is time to act collectively and create a supportive environment that empowers young people to take charge of their reproductive choices.


Munakampe, M.N., Michelo, C. & Zulu, J.M. A critical discourse analysis of adolescent fertility in Zambia: a postcolonial perspective. Reproductive Health 18, 75 (2021).

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