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Adolescent Pregnancy Intervention: The Need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education

By Vandana M. Kissoon

Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Week is celebrated during the month of October annually. The aim of this is to bring awareness to the urgent need for action to prevent unintended adolescent pregnancy. But, before we delve further into exploring the issue, it is important that we understand what adolescent pregnancy is. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) defines adolescent pregnancy as a girl, within the ages of 13-19 years becoming pregnant.

When you think of all the possible things a girl, a child, within that age would be engaged in, becoming a mother is usually not a thought that crosses one’s mind. This, however, is the reality of many young girls globally. It is estimated that 20% of women in the Caribbean give birth to at least one child by the age of 19. With an alarming amount of girls giving birth even before the age of 15. Globally, approximately 16 million adolescent girls give birth annually. Accounting for around 11% of births worldwide. 

Driven by restrictive laws and policies, a lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and services, systemic discrimination and stigma and social gender norms, it is accurate to state that adolescent pregnancy is the direct result of societal factors which increases vulnerability and decreases access to information and services to young girls. Particularly from marginalized communities. 

Adolescent pregnancy poses numerous health and developmental challenges for girls. It negatively affects both the psychosocial development and health outcomes for both mother and offspring, hampers their access to education and employment opportunities and perpetuates the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Pregnant adolescents are more probable than pregnant adults to have unsafe abortions and delay antenatal care to hide their pregnancies. This results in potentially poor health outcomes for both mother and offspring. Adolescent mothers are at a higher risk of eclampsia and puerperal endometriosis. Babies birthed by adolescent mothers face the risk of having lower birth weight, preterm delivery and neonatal conditions due to the lack of antenatal care.

Unmarried adolescent mothers face the full brunt of societal discrimination and stigmatization. This moral judgement is of no surprise considering that sex and sexuality are spoken about in whispers in many conservative cultures.

A conservative society purported by the ideals of religious and moral “purity” before marriage advocated for abstinence-only sex education programs. This approach failed to consider the large percentage of adolescents who would engage in sexual activity and bodily autonomy.

In violating society’s acceptable age standards and religious and moral values for becoming parents, adolescent mothers are often labelled as being irresponsible, lewd, manipulative and incompetent parents. This leaves many isolated and excluded from their families and peer groups. This lack of support pre and post-partum leads to lower mental health issues and substance abuse.

The lack of a support system and having to navigate motherhood at such a tender age tends to lead to a significant amount of adolescent mothers discontinuing their schooling or not attaining the same level of education as their peers. This can limit the number of employment opportunities available to these young mothers. Reducing the chances for economic growth and quality of life for both adolescent mothers and their offspring.

Dr Denise Chevannes, HIV/AIDS Officer at the United Nations Population Fund Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, speaking at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) annual Pamela McNeil lecture, highlighted the effects the Covid-19 pandemic has had on adolescent pregnancy. She indicated that the pandemic has left girls even more vulnerable to adolescent pregnancy. Acknowledging that school creates a safe environment for some girls, she lamented that the closure due to the pandemic can increase gender-based violence from which adolescent pregnancy is a direct consequence. She further stated that the restriction of movement caused by Covid-19 prevention policies limited access to family planning services, contraception and health services which may have been limited or placed on the back burner while Covid-19 treatment has become a priority.

The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the United Nations Children´s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) proposed several recommendations to reduce adolescent pregnancy concentrating on multisectional prevention programs and increasing access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and services. Promoting norms advocating against child marriages, fostering an environment that would encourage adolescents to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and supporting pregnancy prevention programs that target the most vulnerable groups to name a few.

Adolescent pregnancy prevention approaches and policies cannot be standardized. It is essential to take into account all the contributing factors, supported by numerous statistical data and case studies to effectively curb the rate of adolescent pregnancy. The time for our governmental and humanitarian organizations, communities and individuals to invest in the future of girls is now.

REFERENCES

Catriona Jones, Clare Whitfield et al, (2019), “‘Other Girls’: A Qualitative Exploration of Teenage Mothers’ Views on Teen Pregnancy in Contemporaries”

Dr. Chevannes, written by, Tanesha Mundle, (2020), “Focus on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention”

Organization Panamericaine de la Sainte, (2018), “Latin America and the Caribbean have the second highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world”

United Nations Population Fund, (2015), “Adolescent Pregnancy is not just a Health issue”Ramiro Cartes Molina, Carolina Gonzalez et al published in the Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology Volume 24, (2010), “Family planning and adolescent pregnancy”

Vandana M Kissoon is the holder of an LLB (hons) and is currently pursuing her LPC. She is an animal lover and coffee enthusiast. Vandana is a writer at Feminitt Caribbean and is passionate about dismantling oppressive systems.

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