Juvenile pregnancy in Latin America

Lack of contraceptive methods information and education are the main causes of teenage pregnancy in South America

Juvenile pregnancy in Latin America

Adolescence is a time in which all feelings, ideas, and other perceptions about life itself are known. Also, in this phase is where desires outweigh the advice from adults who guide the way. In Latin America, youth is a population full of prejudices and setbacks, especially, if they live in low-income neighborhoods. Therefore, regional governments have been working to combat this situation

This population is constantly growing, and it is imbued with social ills such as poverty, crime, drug addiction, and prostitution. This is related to the socioeconomic situation of their families and their context, where the most important thing is the limitation in the control of fertility among adolescents. Nevertheless, there are not effective contraceptive methods to avoid teenage pregnancy. As a consequence, young pregnant population practices illegal abortions. Thus, teenagers experience social and economic issues when taking care of children at a young age, especially, when in the majority of the cases young parents did not finish educational process. Furthermore, they may face health complications related to illegal practices.

Despite its secrecy, in the 20th century, Cuba has been a country where fertility and sexuality for women under 20 has been relatively low compared to the different countries in the region. However, from 1960, the political and social events have affected the demographic evolution. There was an increase in the population, in 1963 there was a climax of births in which on average per woman were born 4.72 children.

Additionally, in the country there is a range of laws that criminalize abortion that results in the imprisonment of doctors who perform this activity. This caused two main consequences. In the first place, many of these doctors had to travel to other parts of the world. Second, there is maternal mortality due to clandestine abortions, despite the hard measures of the authorities in this respect.

Regardless of the efforts of Barack Obama to provide the island with contraceptive methods, after the arrival of Donald Trump the support of drugs for the prevention of teenage pregnancies was not full field.

Currently, teenage pregnancies in Cuba have increased between the ages of 10 and 14. Nevertheless, the figures have been reduced in women between 15 and 19 years of age. For the year 2016, 994 were born with mothers 14 and 18 years old and 95 children between 16 and 18.

Chile has a 4.7% adolescent pregnancy rate, three times higher than the OECD average. As a result of unwanted pregnancy, almost 32 thousand adolescents per year between 15 and 19 years old have been limited or abruptly terminated the completion of the baccalaureate. This means that 79% of adolescent women in pregnancy attended their secondary education and from this percentage 53% becomes part of the group of young people who do not study or have a paid job.

When asking the reasons for teenagers to be pregnant, they respond it is because of: "By ignorance", "By lack of will", or "My boyfriend asked me the test of love". These responses represent not only the lack of knowledge in contraception mechanisms of population, but also the lack of access to these methods.

In the case of Venezuela, the National Institute of Statistics in 2001 indicated that the population under 19 years is four times greater in its fertility. Likewise, 1 every 5 births corresponds to a teenage mother. In addition, the Latin American Center for Health and Women (CELSAM) indicated that the health risk for adolescents under 14 years of age in relation to pregnancies is much higher than the one of adult women.

Similar to other countries of the region, young people have not been educated in the use of contraceptive methods which results in the lack of knowledge and access to these mechanisms. Therefore, it is recommended to improve access to information in this regard and amplify communication channels for youth population.

In Colombia, there are similar situations. Young people initiate their sexual life at an early age, there is little use of contraceptive methods, and there is ignorance or inaccessibility to complete information regarding how to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Between 2008 and 2013, on average each year 159,656 children were born from mothers between 10 and 19 years old. 

 When there is an unwanted teen pregnancy it is associated with school dropout and discrimination in educational, family, and social contexts. Figures from the National Survey of Demography and Health in 2010 indicated that 19.5% of adolescents have ever been pregnant, which could be a consequence de-schooling and poverty. For example, in Buenaventura the average age of sexual intercourse initiation was 14.5 years, and 67.7% indicated that they did not use any method of family planning in their first sexual relationship.

In El Salvador, an initiative was launched to promote the empowerment of girls and adolescents to boost their development, supported by the Government of that country, society actors, and the civilian population. This initiative has a projection of 10 years and seeks to guarantee the rights of young women and that they can complete their education and media maturity in their sexuality.

Similarly, in Nicaragua a campaign was started with the theme "What should be painful", since this Central American country has a rate of 109 births per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 19 years. This initiative is based on the mandate that adolescent pregnancy is a danger for underage girls, since the health risk is imminent.

In Guatemala there are also alarming figures about teenage pregnancy. In 2016, 27,878 adolescents became mothers between the ages of 10 and 17. Teenage pregnancy risks health, educative process finalization, and economic stability.

The social, political, and economic changes in Latin America seem to have conditioned in a sensitive way the sexual and reproductive behavior of the population. Particularly, youngest ones between 15 and 19 years of age are immersed in different factors that the lead to decisions that threaten physical and emotional integrity.

85% of the population in developing countries, teenagers have affirmed that they have had sexual relations before the age of 16. The situation increases the possibility of unwanted pregnancies that leads to maternal mortality -in this population is 2 to 5 times higher than for women between 20 and 29 years-. What it is recommended is a formal education to reduce teenage pregnancy to generate more awareness about the sexual body care and education.

By the year 2020, it is projected that in Latin America and the Caribbean countries would reach the highest rates of youth fertility in the world. Therefore, it is estimated that not planned pregnancies in young people will be reduced so there won’t be uncomfortable consequences as abortions or unwanted births.

For this reason, interdisciplinary support for education and easy access to information on the prevention of adolescent pregnancies is reiterated to reduce the risk in young women’s lives and that they have the certainty of finishing their average schooling and being productive people.

LatinAmerican Post | Mariana Parra

Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza

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