This paper examines how conceptualisations of adolescence and adolescent pregnancy by the Brazilian state between 1989 and 2010 have shaped social policy addressing adolescent pregnancy. This was examined based on policy documents and public health indicators concerned with adolescent pregnancy. According to this data, adolescents were initially seen as a homogenous group vulnerable to pregnancy as a health risk. While parts of the government began to perceive adolescents as more heterogeneous individuals with agency and responsibility in the 2000s, health indicators lagged behind. Adolescents’ intersecting identities, characteristics of the men and boys who impregnate girls and the extent to which adolescent pregnancies were planned or not were key social factors that were often ignored. Moreover, adolescent pregnancy was largely medicalised. This led to narrow social policy approaches to adolescent pregnancy which ignored the wider social contexts of diverse adolescents in Brazil. Based on two examples, I show how this unidimensional focus ignores the lack of opportunities offered to disadvantaged adolescents by the Brazilian education system and labour market, which make pregnancy more attractive than desired by the state. My second example highlights how the invisibility of the father in health indicators contributes to the idea that adolescent pregnancy only affects adolescents, instead of highlighting gendered inequalities that affect Brazilian society as a whole, including other age groups.
Key words: adolescent pregnancy, sexual citizenship, legibility, health indicators, medicalisation