Colombia’s “medieval” approach towards sex education and the taboo of discussing sexual health at home are the main causes of the country’s high teen pregnancy rates, said an expert.
Despite Cali recently reporting a 15% decrease in teen pregnancy in 2014, Colombia in general continues to struggle with high levels of teen pregnancy due to Colombia “having one of the most powerful medieval administrators in Colombia, Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez, not providing true, complete, and reliable information on sexual and reproductive health for women,” according to sociologist Dr Glory Saavedra.
Teen pregnancy is “one of the main causes of poverty in the country” according to a statement by Simon Gaviria, president of Colombia’s House of Representatives with an estimated 90 out of every 1,000 Colombian girls aged 15 to 19 become pregnant every year in Colombia, bringing with it large socioeconomic inequalities and personal development issues.
Sexual education became obligatory across Colombia in the 1990s in the hope that young people would discuss any worries and have a place to discuss what they perceived as a social taboo – talking about sex. However, parents, shocked by the content of the classes protested against them with the creation of groups such as the “Red Families” urging other parents to denounce the lessons as they thought teachers were encouraging homosexuality.
According to the Ministry of Education, on average, Colombian girls start having sex between the ages of 14 and 15, often with “no protection and no family planning,” as a direct effect of both a lack of sex education in school and the taboo of discussion in a home environment, demonstrating the dire need for such classes to continue.
Furthermore, according to the Ministry of Education and sociologist María Eugenia Rosselli, “you cannot ask a young person to freely discuss sex with their parents,” creating a vacuum of information and subsequent increase in pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Additionally, according to Dr Saavedra, the phenomenon of machismo and patriarchal stereotypes in Colombia “is keeping both men and women stuck in stifling roles” from which women are left with little knowledge about sexual health or where they can gain access to contraception.
However, what efforts there have been to provide education and free contraception have been met with fierce attacks from the Catholic Church in Colombia. For example, when organizers of the Barranquilla Carnival decided to make condoms free and easily accessible at the event to “prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies” they were denounced by the Church as being “irresponsible” for promoting the idea of sex.
However methods such as these must begin to be implemented in order to lessen the rate of teen and unwanted pregnancy.
The reality however, with regards to contraception use, is that there is a social dynamic. Inequalities exist in the real access to contraception according to wealth with 75% for women at the richest level regularly using contraception, compared to 67.5 % for less wealthy women. Among young people, the rate of teen pregnancy among the poorest teenagers reaches 30%, while among the richest teens, 7%.
The Colombian government did however become inventive in their approach to sexual education when, in 2009, they began paying street artists to get on buses and sing about sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Dr Saavedra “the drive towards peace in Colombia is not just about ending the armed war per se, but about rescuing much of Colombian society from the cultural abyss it has been dragged into, including the establishment of respect, equality and non-discrimination.”
- Estrategica sanitaria nacional de salud sexual y reproductiva (Ministry of Heath)
- 222 millones de mujeres no tienen acceso a la planificacion familiar en el mundo (United Nations)
- Que es el aborto? (ProFamilia)
- Planificacion Familiar (UNFPA)
- La planificación familiar es un derecho humano (Centro de Derechos Reproductivos)
- Educacion Sexual responsabilidad de todos (Ministry of Education)