Colombia on Friday finished up a week for adolescent pregnancy prevention with the aim of reducing pregnancies in teenage girls.
The first meeting, organized by family welfare institute ICBF took place on Monday in the capital Bogota, and included talks by experts, doctors and government officials with the aim of educating young people and their parents about the risks involved in unsafe sexual relationships between youngsters and the potential consequences for young people and Colombia as a whole.
The week of events aimed at raising awareness of the problem of teenage pregnancy, promoting safe sex and the use of contraception, will continue until next week and feature workshops and conventions in a number of schools and community centres around the country.
The project aims to publicize safe sex, but also advertise the assistance available to young people and their families from government agencies.
Director of ICBF Cristina Plazas said: “We aim to strengthen the work of inter-institutional agencies and reduce the family, social and culture factors that influence teen pregnancy and make it difficult to construct stable lives for our young people. We are speaking about a reality which limits their chances of a proper education and the option of a normal working life.”
Teenage pregnancy is no new problem in Colombia. According to human rights NGO Plan International, in Colombia 20% of adolescent girls are either mothers or pregnant.
In March 2013 President Juan Manuel Santos noted his concerns about the high rate of teen pregnancy in Colombia.
“We have to recognize that in this specific aspect [teen pregnancy] we are not doing well. We still have the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies in Latin America,” Santos said.
Santos said that teenage pregnancy was robbing opportunities from “thousands and thousands of little girls.”
A slight decline
Recent figures from 2013/14 suggest that Colombia has been overtaken by Guatemala as the country with the highest level of teen pregnancies in Latin America, and ICBF reports a decline since 2008, but figures are still high.
According to ICBF between 2008 and 2013 on average 159,656 children were born to mothers aged between 10 and 19 years old. Surveys from 2013 show a decline on 8.2% in comparison with 2008 with 153,711 children born to teenage mothers.
Concerning levels of underage mothers
While a small decrease in national figures is shown, it should be noted that 4% of these births were to girls between the ages of ten and fourteen years old.
ICBF offer the case of Niña Wayyu, an eleven year old girl who recently gave birth in Punta de Sierra, Machobayo. Colombian data agency DANE recorded that in 2013 6389 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years gave birth in Colombia.
After meeting with the eleven year old mother Niña Wayyu on September 19, ICBF Director Plaza said:” “Respect for cultural ethnic diversity is a constitutional mandate, but our Constitution also provides that the rights of children take precedence over any other law…Our Penal Code states that any sexual relationship with a child under 14 years is the crime of sexual abuse.”
It should be noted that these are some of the poorest areas of Colombia, and contain high levels of indigenous communities.
Teen pregnancy has been highlighted as one of the contributors to the high levels of poverty in Colombia.
Young women are often left with a child which they struggle to support financially, they are forced to leave education often without qualifications due to lack of child-care options available, and thus struggle to enter the job market.
Lack of options available to young women
It is estimated that 90 out of every 1,000 Colombian girls aged 15 to 19 become pregnant every year, and – with legal abortions legal only in cases where the mother or baby is at risk — most of these girls find themselves responsible for a child.
According to NGO Human rights watch there are an estimated 450,000 illegal abortions in Colombia every year, and unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality.
Recent studies indicate that a higher proportion of adolescent girls than adult women undergo illegal abortions: 36 percent of adolescent pregnancies end in abortion, whereas 12 percent of other pregnancies do.
Illegal abortions are not only extremely dangerous, but also harshly punished under Colombian law.
The punishment for a woman who has an illegal abortion is up to three years in prison and the punishment for a doctor or other person who completes the operation illegally (even if medically licensed to perform the procedure) is also up to three years.
Experts have blamed the high level of teenage pregnancy on common trend of not using traditional and legal contraception methods such as condoms, partly blamed on the ‘macho’ culture that exists in Colombia. ICBF argued that pressure put on young girls by their partners was also a major reason for unsafe sex and girls becoming sexually active while very young.
ICBF hopes that this week’s campaign will raise awareness in communities about the problem and the high levels of teenage pregnancy that exist here in Colombia, as a means of promoting the use of safe contraception and thus ensuring more girls can finish their education, access the world of work and choose to have children when they are ready for realities of motherhood.
- Alarmantes cifras de embarazo adolescente en Colombia (El Espectador)
- “La Prevención del Embarazo Adolescente requiere la acción conjunta de Estado, sociedad y familia” (ICFB website)
- Abortion. Colombia (HRW website)
- Guatamala has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America and it´s getting worse (Tico Times)
- Polacion y democrafia/nacimientos y defunciones (DANE)