Monday, July 6, 2020
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Adolescent mothers are victims of violence, abandonment and misinformation
Jennifer Ávila
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Lack of sex and reproductive education in schools leads to a considerable incidence of adolescent pregnancy.

Suyapa is a young 20 year old woman with two daughters. At barely 15 she had her first pregnancy. “Many of my friends and schoolmates got pregnant that year. Many of them  have a very hard time because they are alone and it is difficult to have children,” says Suyapa who was born in Honduras, one of the worst countries to be a woman, according to Save the Children, international organization for the protection of children rights.

Honduras is in second place, after Bolivia, with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America. In this small Central American country, 28 percent of all pregnancies are of adolescent mothers; however, in the northern area of the country, the rate is higher than the national average, at 30 percent to 35 percent. Meanwhile, 19 adolescents give birth each day in the University Hospital in Tegucigalpa.

Doctor Luis Sánchez, a gynecologist at the Leonardo Martínez Hospital — located in San Pedro Sula and considered the most important health center for the care of women and children in the northwestern area of the country — assures that this is a public health problem, and says that the conditions in which these pregnant girls arrive are increasingly precarious due to sexually transmitted diseases, misinformation and abandonment by the men who got them pregnant.

“The risk for a single woman is higher, and being an adolescent brings a social, personal and health risk because simply for being young, the birth could be by surgical means. Also, many of them arrive with medical conditions like condyloma or the human papilloma virus, which if not treated can develop into cervical cancer in women. We have had young patients suffering from pre-eclampsia, sexually transmitted genital infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis,” said Sánchez.

“They are normally patients who come along with their mothers or aunts if they are under 14. The people bringing them are close relatives; the partners are usually absent because, in many cases, they are afraid to be denounced to the prosecutor’s office for rape,” the specialist added.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) the maternal mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean is among the top three causes of death in adolescents between 15 and 19. In adolescents younger than 15, the risk of death by pregnancy related causes is up to three times that of women between 20 and 29.

Suyapa tells in tears that she cannot imagine get ahead with her daughters without the support from her parents, since the men who got her pregnant abandoned her.

“The father of my first daughter would accompany me to the hospital and everything was nice, but I didn’t like living in his parents’ house and things changed. Then he left for the United States and I never heard back from him and he never sent money to help with the baby. After that, I met another guy and got pregnant, although I was getting the birth control shots, and he also left for the United States and he also doesn’t take on the responsibility. I don’t know what would have come of us without the support from my parents; many of my friends are alone in this, and it is hard,” she says.

Without opportunities
In Honduras, the phenomenon called “ni-ni” (ni trabaja-ni estudia, “neither-nor”) is alarming. According to the UNFPA, around 600,000 young people don’t have the opportunities to study or work, which is another risk factor for adolescents.

Added to this is the general climate of violence that has forced thousands of people to flee from Honduras. In its annual 2016-2017 report, Amnesty International pointed out that “women, migrants, internally displaced persons and human rights defenders — specially lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual persons (LGBTI) — were particularly prone to suffer violence. The weakness of the criminal justice system contributed to the impunity climate.”

The Organization for Youth Empowerment  (OYE), in El Progreso, Yoro, a city in the north of Honduras where Suyapa lives, is implementing a Project called CREA (Creating Safe Spaces) in which they put priority in training on sexual and reproductive education subjects, with young people, as early pregnancy is a growing problem in the country.

Claudia Pavón, the coordinator of the project says that one of the critical problems is misinformation and the lack of implementation of an education plan in schools and academies in the cities to prevent teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and gender violence.

“There is a policy in Honduras, a decree consisting in that a reproductive health guide must be implemented in schools, ‘Taking care of my health and my life’, but they go unused. We have worked with teachers and they were not aware of it; they didn’t know how to use it,” she says. “The subjects of highest interest are: pregnancy, methods, sexually transmitted infections; and the misinformation on these subjects is clear, this is the reason why we see the high incidence of pregnancies, it is the lack of information.”

Pavón is referring to the National Policy for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (RAMNI). In the beginning of 2017, various sectors, including the Catholic and Evangelical churches, said that the guides are not adequate and instead of preventing, they encourage children and young people to experiment sexual activity at an early age. This policy, as well as the implementation of the guides has found itself in constant controversy since its approval.

The material content is not designed to be handled by students; instead, it is to be taught by teachers regarding how to conduct the class by means of games, talks and student groups. According to the Ministry of Education, 23,000 teachers have already been trained to use this material.

At the moment this organization along with the health and education authorities and other youth organizations, are looking to come up with a municipal policy for the prevention of adolescent pregnancies by mandating that schools implement the use of the sex education guides. They are also putting more emphasis on masculinities education because a critical problem is the violent relationships in which these pregnancies occur.

Suyapa claims that she was not a victim of violence by her partners; however, their abandonment has confined her to dedicate all her time to caring for her little girls and to look for temporary work to help with the household expenses. At 20 years old, Suyapa has not made it past the eighth grade in school.

“Those patients who are alone arrive with limited economic resources; they drop out of school, limit their capacity to find a job, and get frustrated for not reaching their short and long term goals. This is the condition in which we receive these patients, afraid, frustrated, with pathologies; this is what we have to deal with. It is up to us, the specialist doctors, to deal with them, not anymore as medium risk patients, but as high risk patients. Some of them are referred to the social work psychologist; they do the follow-up on these patients until the end of the pregnancy or until the post-partum,” explains Sánchez.

Although abandonment of the home is penalized with between 8 to 10 years in prison, or other preventive measures, in Honduras, Suyapa has not filed charges against the fathers of her daughters.

Unsafe abortions
The UNFPA calculates the number of annual unsafe abortions in adolescents between 15 and 19 years old in Latin America to reach 670,000. Abortion is completely criminalized in Honduras.

Recently, with the discussion of a new Penal Code, feminist and women organizations opened the debate for the decriminalization of abortion in three circumstances: rape, illness of the mother and fetal impairment. Still, the reform was not approved. 

According to the Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), there are around 3,000 reports of sexual violence each year.

In the Leonardo Martínez Hospital, personnel from the Prosecutors Office are watchful for pregnant adolescents who arrive, in order to facilitate their pressing charges for rape or other type of sexual crime to those who impregnated them. However, Sánchez says that there are not many charges filed, despite the fact that the pregnancy of a girl under 14 years old is considered special rape or statutory rape.

“The youngest girl we have had here was 12. We automatically consider that to be statutory rape if the young girl is under 14 years old; if she is older we many times realize that it was rape by a relative or whoever and we notify the country authorities,” he explains.

Sánchez adds that adolescents with incomplete abortions have started to come in this year.

“Since April we have had adolescents with deferred or incomplete abortions, exposed to have it spontaneously or we do not know if they have been induced, but we do receive patients in those conditions,” he explains, stressing that this is a health problem that needs to be looked into, especially in the northern areas of Honduras which is where most of these cases are taking place. —Latinamerica Press.


Honduras is in second place, after Bolivia, with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America. / UNAH
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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