Challenges of teen pregnancy

The National, Friday July 8th, 2016

EVERY day, 20,000 girls below the age of 18 give birth in developing countries.
Girls under 15 account for two million of the annual total of 7.3 million new adolescent mothers; if current trends continue, the number of births to girls under 15 could rise to three million a year in 2030.
These are among other startling revelations by a recent report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The report highlighted the main challenges of adolescent pregnancy and its serious impacts on girls’ education, health and long-term employment opportunities.
As a developing country, Papua New Guinea not only faces the challenges of adolescent or under-aged pregnancy but needs to seriously address this issue with the help of the UNFPA.
Government policymakers and planners should be taking heed of the report, which also shows what can be done to curb this trend and protect girls’ human rights and well-being.
Adolescent pregnancies were unheard of in our traditional societies where our people lived simple and dignified lives and were governed by cultural beliefs and taboos. With the advent of modernisation, Papua New Guinea had been catapulted from the Stone Age into the space age and now the internet age. Our lifestyles and mindsets have been virtually revolutionised for better or worse. While the majority of our people continue to live their simple lives in the villages, the negative aspects and problems of modernisation are finding their way into their once-protected traditional environment.
No longer are our rural people safe from the problems that besiege our modern nation with adolescent pregnancy being one of the prices we have to pay for modernisation.
As it is, PNG lacks proper statistics to confirm or deny a definite increase in adolescent pregnancies but it can be safely assumed that our current modern environment, especially in the urban areas, is quite conducive to this trend.
We agree with the UNFPA’s findings that impoverished, poorly educated and rural girls are more likely to become pregnant than their wealthier, more urban, and more educated counterparts.
In PNG, girls from ethnic minorities or marginalised groups, and those who have limited or no access to sexual and reproductive health are also at greater risk.
Indeed, pregnancy has major consequences on a girl’s health since health problems are more likely is she becomes pregnant too soon after reaching puberty.
The UNFPA report also stated that girls who remain in school longer are less likely to become pregnant.
Education prepares girls for future jobs and livelihoods, raises their self-esteem and their status, and gives them more say in decisions affecting their lives.
Early pregnancies reflect powerlessness, poverty and pressures – from partners, peers, families and communities. Girls under 15 have special vulnerabilities, and not enough has been done to understand and respond to their particular and daunting challenges.
Adolescent pregnancy is both a cause and consequence of rights violations.
Pregnancy undermines a girl’s ability to exercise her rights to education, health and autonomy.
Conversely, when a girl is unable to enjoy basic rights, she is more vulnerable to becoming pregnant.
Many countries have taken action aimed specifically at preventing adolescent pregnancy, and in some cases, at supporting girls who have become pregnant.
However, many of these measures have been primarily about changing the behaviour of the girls, without addressing the underlying causes, including gender equality, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, child marriage, social pressures, and negative attitudes and stereotypes about adolescent girls.
It is interesting to note that strategies have frequently neglected to take into account the role that boys and men can play to address and prevent adolescent pregnancy.
PNG authorities should take heed of the UNFPA’s advice that tackling unintended pregnancy among adolescents requires holistic approaches.
And because the challenges are enormous and complex, no single sector or organisation can face them on its own.
Only by working in partnerships, across sectors, and in collaboration with adolescents themselves, can constraints on their progress be removed.
Affirmative action must be taken by the political leadership and the relevant administrative agencies to address this serious social issue that is threatening to derail the hopes and aspirations of our people.