The runners and walkers were taking part in the 4th Vientiane International Half Marathon, one of whose goals this year was to raise awareness of the need to end teenage pregnancy.
Under the slogan “Girlhood Not Motherhood: together we can end teenage pregnancy” the event was supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Sports.
The half marathon was also part of events to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.
Speaking at the event, UNFPA’s Representative in the Lao PDR, Ms Mariam Khan, said teenage pregnancy creates a cycle of inter-generational poverty and disadvantage.
Young men and women need to know about safe and responsible sexual reproductive health, and know where they can access information and quality services.
“Every girl in Laos should enjoy their girlhood, not motherhood. Every pregnancy should be by choice, not chance,” Ms Khan said.
Laos has the highest proportion of teen pregnancies in Asean with 83 live births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.
One in 20 adolescent girls has never attended school. As a result, non-school attendant girls are married at an early age.
One in 10 girls has given birth to their first child before they are 17 years of age. This leads to increased risks to the health of mothers as well as newborns.
One in five adolescent girls aged 15-19 drops out of school.
It is difficult for young men and women to know where to go for information and services about their sexual reproductive health and well-being. Knowing the problem is the first step, Ms Khan stressed.
Through its support for the event, UNFPA aimed to reach more than 4,000 participants with key information and services through various media platforms, radio interviews, a social media campaign to engage the audience on questions around teenage pregnancy, and a variety of games and activities.
The first Vientiane International Half Marathon was held in 2016 with about 1,000 runners. In successive years, the number of participants and volunteers and the size of the audience has increased.
A diverse range of people take part and running a marathon does not divide participants by background or culture, so that no one is left behind.
In the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals, the UNFPA is attempting to expand channels of engagement in Laos, reaching out to those who may not be familiar with topics such as teenage pregnancy and how that can be limiting for the future of young mothers and their children.