One in five girls in Colombia get pregnant before reaching 18 years of age, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) claimed in a report released this week.
The UNFPA study was led by United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director by Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Osotimehin said in the study’s introduction that “from a human rights perspective, a girl who becomes pregnant—regardless of the circumstances or reasons—is one whose rights are undermined.” She also pointed out how that of the 580 million adolescent girls in the world four out of five of them live in developing countries.
The study noted that across the globe girls who are impoverished, poorly educated, and from rural areas are more likely to become pregnant and that girls from or ethnic minority or other marginalized groups are also more likely to become pregnant. Its central focus’ were to access the impact of teenage pregnancy, address its underlying causes and develop potential solutions to counter the problem.
Last year the Colombian congress sought to reduce the county’s teenage pregnancy rate with a law to provide regular checks on young women to combat both accidental pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The initiative came on the back of reports of over a hundred girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old and over a thousand under 18 becoming pregnant in Colombia in 2012. The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) had spoken aggressively about the statistics saying that the prevailing culture cannot be one where teenage pregnancies as considered “everyday occurrences.”
According to the UNFPA study, other countries in Latin America with high rates of under-18 pregnancy included Nicaragua (28%), Honduras (26%), Dominican Republic (25%), Guatemala (24%), El Salvador (24%), Ecuador (21%) and Bolivia (20%). Countries with high rates were overwhelmingly in developing and underdeveloped countries, especially in Africa.
The findings contradict claims made earlier this year by president Santos who said that Colombia has the worst teen pregnancy rate in Latin America. Santos said in May as he signed legislation for youth education programs: “We still have the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies in Latin America.”
The UNFPA report recommends eight steps to solving the problem of teenage pregnancy including preventing marriages under the age of 18, protecting rights to healthcare access, expanding age-appropriate sex education, and engaging men and boys to be part of the solution. Osotimehin also points to a need to change the culture of blame toward girls themselves and instead concentrate efforts on “the pursuit of social justice, equitable development and the empowerment of girls as the true pathway to fewer adolescent pregnancies.”
A similar report by NGO Plan International earlier this year also put the percentage of under-18 pregnancy in Colombia at 20%. A spokesperson for Plan International said that the high rate is partly due to Colombia’s culture of machismo and that improvement would have to preceded by changes in attitudes of men towards women, and of women towards themselves.
MORE: Machismo has to go: NGO