Giving Our Daughters the Future They Deserve


Putting aside the politics of teen pregnancy, what does it represent to families? I think most parents (at least those like me who live in affluent countries or are in the upper echelons of other nations) would say we wouldn't wish it for our daughters first and foremost because it represents the loss of innocence, of youthful naiveté. By that I don't mean the kind of ignorance that leads people to trust scams, but that wonderful hopefulness that makes young people dream of being astronauts, artists or peacemakers (all the hopes I cherish for my daughter) — the kind of naiveté that allows you to fall madly in love the first time because the inevitable heartbreak is impossible to imagine. While none of us enjoys standing by during the painful parts of our daughters' journey into adulthood, neither would we want them to become adults without having had all those grand dreams.

Teen pregnancy represents the abrupt and unequivocal end of the time when all things are possible and the arrival of the cold, hard understanding that invincibility does not exist. It's the unambiguous end of "girlhood."

That's in this country (though there are certainly girls in this country who don’t believe that it’s realistic to dream big and that’s an important issue, too).

But in many societies, teen pregnancy is the desired outcome for a daughter. Once the body is ready, why wait? A girl's family arranges her marriage and she is expected to begin having children.

There's a tendency to believe that we should not be mortified because this is their culture, who are we to judge. So we may feel it's unfortunate that there are societies where poverty in general is so bad there are no dreams of space flights or cures for cancer or fairy tale love. We may even lament that in many places, girls who are not from a rarified strata of their society don't have the opportunity to complete secondary school. We may understand that the lack of participation of women is possibly the biggest factor keeping the society from developing economically. But we don't view teen pregnancies as the same travesty as we do when the teen is American. And why not?

Because this girl's life choices are limited, anyway? Because if she finishes secondary school, she will marry and have children and she will have only delayed the inevitable? Because she's married and so we believe that her passage into adulthood and motherhood is somehow smoother and safer?

Then consider this fact. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 worldwide.

Early marriage (which is equivalent to teen pregnancy for this argument) increases girls' risk of HIV infection (because older husbands are more likely to already be infected with the virus).

The more educated a girl, the more likely she is to space her children and fewer children leads to more economic stability for the family.

Countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that have high rates of child marriage are countries with high poverty rates, high birth rates, greater incidence of conflict and civil strife and lower levels of schooling, employment, health care. Conversely, East Asian countries like Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand that have successfully eliminated child marriage for the most part are characterized by economic growth.

Some of the biggest advocates against teen pregnancy — Salamatou Traoré, the Honorable Joyce Banda, Dr. Myriam Conejo Maldonaldo — never even use the phrase. Because where early marriage is common, "teen" as we know it, doesn't really exist. But "opportunity" does and for whatever reason, these women — though they come from societies that do not expect or generally allow much from the girls — became leaders. So they believe in the grand dreams of girls. As the mother of a 4-year-old daughter and a feminist, I know the importance of dreaming for our collective daughters. I wouldn't want that dream cut short by death or disease. So, whether we call it "early marriage" or "teenage pregnancy," let's work to give our daughters the future they deserve.

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  • invalid-0

    While I agree that I don’t like to see teens get pregnant, I have to disagree with your conclusion that pregnancy itself causes death in teens. It is the conditions, like malnourishment, poor medical care, abusive conditions, poor general health etc. that lead to problems in pregnancy, not necessarily being a teenager. In my experience, most healthy teenage bodies handle pregnancy quite well, especially those older teens.

    Just sign me,

    Labor and delivery nurse

  • brian-nguyen

    Obviously there are more factors that are tangentially associated with being a teenager that may increase the risk of mortality than age alone. However there seems to be resounding evidence that even though teenagers are biologically ready (and in some cases even better fit than women of marginally older age) to give birth to children, there are risks entailed that might prevent the best outcome. Maybe death is a bit of an exaggeration, but if it is the death of potential for self-discovery and self-fulfillment, then I completely agree that teenage pregnancy can sometimes lead to this type of death. Nevertheless…some interesting links to ponder:

     

    Homicide: A Leading Cause of Injury Deaths Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women in the United States, 1991–1999:
    This study found an even greater link among women under the age of 20 and among African American women.

    http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/full/95/3/471

    —–

    Pregnancy and childbirth are leading causes of death in teenage girls in developing countries
    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/328/7449/1152-a

    —–

    Lastly of note:
    Mortality with Contraception and Induced Abortion:
    This is an older document dated from 1969, however the statistics are important to see: The risk of mortality associated with pregnancy was 20/100,000. Compare this to the risk of mortality associated with contraception and abortion being 3/100,000.

    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0039-3665%28196909%291%3A45%3C6%3AMWCAIA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7&size=LARGE&origin=JSTOR-enlargePage

  • invalid-0

    Well I want my daughter to be raised in a society that doesn’t delight in the slaughtering of innocent babies! I want her to know that if she has sex, the responsibility is for her to live up to her choice to have sex, and deal with those consequences, whatever they may be, with dignity and honor.

    I want her to honor life, and fight for every human’s right to life.

    I think your comment that early marriage=HIV infection!! That is crazy! Your thinking is whacky.

  • invalid-0

    that society “delights in the slaughtering of innocent babies”?

  • invalid-0

    Thank you for taking the time to make information on this subject available.

    Until recently I had no idea how widespread the problem of child marriage is nor had I realized that it involved such young children. I was exposed to the issue when I started doing some volunteer work for an organization called One By One, (www.fightfistula.org) which is working to end obstetric fistula (an injury resulting from prolonged, obstructed labor – during labor a hole develops between the woman’s bladder and her vagina with the result that she leaks urine continuously afterwards). Since one of the underlying causes of fistula is early marriage and girls becoming pregnant before their bodies are fully ready to withstand pregnancy and labor I have been trying to learn more about this issue as well.

    One very good sources of information on child marriage is the International Center for Research on Women (: http://www.icrw.org/). They have a great deal of information on their website, including resources to help educate others on this issue and links to current legislation pertaining to child marriage.

    Also, I highly recommend watching the video “Child Brides; Stolen Lives” – it can be seen online at http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/341/index.html

    For those of you who are registered voters in the United States, you can support legislation addressing the issue of child marriage currently before both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It would be extremely helpful if as many people as possible called their representatives and expressed their support.

    Contact information for your Senators and Representative can be found at:
    Senate: http://www.senate.gov/
    Representative: http://www.house.gov/

    The house bill is HR3175 and ICRW has a great synopsis of it at:
    http://www.icrw.org/docs/advocacy/HR%203175%20-%20one-pager.pdf
    The Senate bill is S1998 and a synopsis of it can be found at:
    http://www.icrw.org/docs/advocacy/S%201998-%20one-pager.pdf

    Thanks again for taking an interest in and helping spread information about this issue.