Still children themselves: Challenges of teen pregnancy
By Jade Arroyo
Teen pregnancy is a serious social and public health issue, especially in the rural communities where residents lack information and access to health services. Guanajuato is among the top five states for numbers of teen pregnancies. To learn more about this issue we spoke to counselors, doctors, midwives and psychologists.
According to Aproximaciones al embarazo en la adolescencia en Guanajuato: Un abordaje integral, a study done by the Institute of Women in Guanajuato, the teen population has tripled in the last 30 years. Teen pregnancy is substantially different in underdeveloped countries and industrialized ones. In Mexico, 70 of 1,000 girls are pregnant, whereas in France and Germany, respectively, only 9 and 4 out of 1,000 are pregnant. In addition, in Mexico, 50 percent of sexual assaults are against girls. According to CASA, 11 percent of the children born here in 2013 were born to teenagers, and 20 percent of the pregnancy tests CASA performed were done for teenagers.
Reproductive health and social marginality
Women from rural communities are the least informed about sexual and reproductive health; owing to their social condition they lack complete and well-informed education. About 40 percent of the girls in Mexico live in rural communities. According to the CONAPO, most of them who live in poverty drop out of school at an early age, and migration often becomes a way to improve their income. Migration can also be risky, and unprotected sexual encounters are not uncommon. Also, it is in rural communities where more violence against women is present because of lack of economic resources and a pervasive attitude of machismo.
Juan Carlos Gómez Estrada is the coordinator of PESSANE (Educational Program for Sexual Health and Counseling) of CASA A.C., a program that includes talks and workshops given in schools, mostly in rural communities. According to Gómez, parents tend to be a barrier regarding sexual education. “They think that if PESSANE talks to kids about sexuality it induces them to start sexual activity sooner; teachers, on the other hand, welcome these kinds of programs because the drop-out rate in schools is high owing to unwanted pregnancies. On average, teenagers start being sexually active between 11 and 15 years of age (while in middle school), amidst misinformation, wrong beliefs, double standards and lack of contraceptive measures. Besides the lack of knowledge and ignorance about sexual and reproductive health, pregnancy is also used as a way to escape the family group or to hold on to a partner,” he said.
The local DIF has a program, PREVERP, that is aimed at preventing the psychosocial causes of addictions, suicide and teen pregnancies. The woman in charge of this program, Esther Muñoz, works mostly in schools. They also reach out to the parents to identify and correct problems in the home.
The drop-out rate is factor number one when it comes to the social and personal development of pregnant teenagers. Girls who interrupt their education usually do not have access to better employment or standards of living; it is also harder for them to marry. Discrimination toward pregnant girls is common. Pregnancy and childbirth in teenagers is associated with poor health in both the mother and the baby: toxemia, preeclampsia, eclampsia, anemia, low birth weight and interruption of physical development are all problems encountered by pregnant teens. Prenatal medical attention is also very scarce. CASA staff said that most of the teenage girls they see come to CASA in the third or fourth month of their pregnancies (the first weeks are key to the baby’s development).
Maria (an alias) is the mother of a 16-year-old girl who is seven months pregnant. Maria is also part of the staff of a local religious educational institution where her own daughter used to study until she was dismissed for being pregnant. Enforced expulsion is a discriminatory practice, considered “part of the institutional politics,” she said. Maria did not complain so as not to jeopardize her own job or her daughter’s position since she had always had a scholarship. Between pauses and tears, Maria recalls how hard it has been for the family, especially because her daughter was always an outstanding student. “We always spoke openly with her about how to take care of herself and about contraception. I cannot explain to myself how this could happen.” Her daughter plans to keep her baby and continue studying. Maria also shared that over the past 10 years she has witnessed the forced expulsion of eight girls for being pregnant, and she has also learned about abortions (one girl had had up to five). “Their parents did not know anything about it,” she said. Once, a girl was given the opportunity by the nuns to finish the semester at home, through homework, but this chance was removed when the parents complained about the situation, claiming that a girl of corrupted morals did not deserve such a privilege. Parents also demand the expulsion of pregnant girls,
arguing that the other girls will be corrupted as well.
Esther is 17 years old and has a 10-month-old baby. She recalls that she did have the support of her family and boyfriend. She and her partner used to use the natural methods: counting fertile days and interruption. She says that it is very difficult for a teenager to have access to contraceptives because one cannot obtain them without parents’ or a tutor’s authorization (for birth control pills, shots or IUD). “I just cannot tell my mother that I’m about to have sex and ask her to go with me to the health center to ask for birth control. She would kill me.” She adds that abortion was never an option because of the beliefs of her family.
Challenges and needed changes
The director of the CASA midwifery school, María Eugenia Torres, considers that in order for a change to take place society needs to have better health providers and place more importance on humanitarianism. “A national campaign focused specifically on prevention of teen pregnancy is needed, given in all schools. The goal of our midwifery school is to instruct girls from rural communities so that they can go back and help their own communities; the midwife’s role is to assist during all stages of a woman’s life,” she stated. Juan Carlos Gómez from PESSANE considers that this problem has not been reduced, and the way to improve it is to provide sexual education beginning in early childhood, because this is a vital subject and an integral part of our own development as human beings.
CASA is a self-sustaining civic institution caring for the San Miguel community and the nearby rural communities through its different programs of prevention, psychological and legal counseling and health care. To support CASA you can either make a tax-deductible donation, become a volunteer or donate goods or services. Visit www.empowercasa.org or their facilities in colonias Santa Julia and San Rafael.