When Getting Pregnant Isn’t About Being a Mother


In Colombia, one in
every five women under 19 years old is a mother or is pregnant. The rate of teen motherhood is on the rise in
most of the Latin American countries. In Colombia, this situation is partly the result of young women wanting to become mothers, and partly the result of young women seeking some benefits early motherhood might provide them.

According
to the 2005 National Survey on Demography and Health, carried out every five
years by Profamilia, a sexual and reproductive health provider, 42% of the
teenagers expressed a wish to become mothers.
However, this fact does not
change the consequences of teen motherhood in terms of maternal mortality and
poverty cycle reproduction. From
1986 and 1995, the rate of teen motherhood increased from 70 to 89 per 1000
young women, and in 2005 it reached 90 teens per 1000.

Why Early Motherhood?

One
of the factors that pushed up teen pregnancy is violence resulting from the
armed conflict. Statistics show that the
rate of teen motherhood is higher among displaced population.

Profamilia,
which runs a program for displaced families, has concluded that teen pregnancy
is a way for poor young women to reach objectives other than motherhood. For
instance, for such women, getting pregnant by a rich man — even if he is married to someone else — is
a way to get income for their families and to gain social status among their
neighborhood. "For many of these displaced young
women, having a baby is a means to solving a lack of affection and income,"
said Susana Moya, national coordinator of Profamilia’s
Program for Youth.

In
addition, young mothers in poverty can apply for assistance at the Instituto de
Bienestar Familiar, a governmental body in charge of social welfare and family
care, which offers integrated assistance, including food supplies, training,
and housing subsidies. This social
welfare is provided only to women who are mothers.

But
not only the displaced young women are choosing to become mothers. What could be the
causes that push other teenagers to get pregnant?

In
addition to the early initiation of sexual relations and the lack of a comprehensive
sexual education, there are social and economic factors which push teenagers to
motherhood.

Many
women are living in aggressive environments where their rights are ignored and
violated. Young women are often abused;
their opinions are not taken into account within their own families, and
sometimes are suffering pressure and mistreatment from their teachers.

"They
are running away from the ‘hell’ they are living at home," pointed out Germán
Salazar, coordinator of the Department for Youth from the Fundación Cardio-Infantil.
Various researchers have concluded that for poor women, having a baby accords
them more status, and a child can become their source of affection.

Diverging Views on Effective Sexuality Education

Although
sexual education at schools has a long history in Colombia,
not all the organizations involved have similar approaches. For some
organizations the emphasis is on values, duties and
responsibilities, encouraging teenagers to avoid sexual relations until they
feel certain they’re ready to start their sexual life and have the resources to afford
protection methods. "Sexual education is not talking about condoms but about values,
and is not only a matter of sexual rights but of duties," Germán
Salazar said.

Pro-values organizations do not promote abstinence until marriage. They argue that "saying
no" is an option for teenagers with enough autonomy, decision-making capacity and
self-esteem, whereas it is not for those who are only taught about contraception
and safer sex methods.

Others
organizations have an approach based on sexual rights combined with the
responsible exercising of sexuality and strengthening of autonomy. They argue that interventions have to be
done quickly and based on the current
reality, including early sexual initiation. According to the survey mentioned above,
the percentage of women between 25 and 49 years old that have their first
sexual relation before their fifteenth birthday passed from 8% in 2000 to 11% in 2005.

"If
we wait until teenagers get high levels of self-esteem, decision-making capacity and
autonomy as preconditions to talk them about contraception methods, teen
pregnancies will continue to rise," pointed out Susanna Moya.

The organizations that
support the pro-rights approach insist that interventions for teen motherhood prevention
and STI protection must be done, as well as sexual education programs for
self-esteem and autonomy.

However,
representatives of both approaches agreed on the opinion that the media -
advertisements and entertainment – is playing an important role. The media is sending messages that
tend to ignore sexual protection and is promoting sexual
relations among young audiences.

Neither the pro-values nor
the pro-rights groups support the idea that the only appropriate expression of sexuality
is within a heterosexual marriage. Such
a position could only be seen within some Catholic groups.

Currently,
the Ministry of Education is implementing a pilot pedagogic
methodology called Education for Sexuality and Citizenship Building in a number of cities.
This curriculum is a transversal program based on civil rights, and covers sexuality, and reproductive and
sexual health. Teachers are being trained to develop innovative ways to develop
this transversal program. If this innovative
program brings successful outcomes, it could be used not
only for the rest of Colombia but throughout Latin
America. 

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