A Path Towards Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancies
by Eunice Ramírez Cotóm
Being an adult in this country is difficult because the state offers few guarantees of the essentials in life. And if that were not enough, being a young girl, especially, an indigenous young girl, or from a rural area means childhood will be abruptly yanked away from her. This sad situation occurs for the majority of girls and adolescents turning them into mothers at an early age.
The precariousness of life for children and adolescents in this country can be understood through the numbers suffering from malnutrition, the percentage of children and adolescents who live in poverty and extreme poverty, and those subjected to child labor. Being female is even more difficult because core community values normalize pregnancy at an early age as typical and everyday for girls and adolescents. This condition creates an obstacle for human development. As a result a high percentage of these girls postpone or abandon their education because they take on roles that do not correspond to their age and for which they are not ready.
In 2021 alone, based on reports by RENAP (National Registry of Persons) and according to information monitored by the OSAR (Reproductive Health Watch) girls between 10 and 14 years of age gave birth to 2,041 of registered infants. It is outrageous to think that a single girl should be forced to carry to term a pregnancy that resulted from sexual abuse. At such a young age the physical body, mental development and social conditions of girls render them unprepared to consent to sexual relations. And most cases of such abuse are committed by adult men who are close to the family, sometimes as much as five times the victim’s age.
Another statistic which OSAR’s monitoring showed: 72,077 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 registered births of a son or daughter. This number is equally disturbing because of the way life is for youngsters in this country. These initial registrations could be their second, even their third time giving birth. It is very likely that they’ve begun living with a partner at age 15–a relationship that was forced upon them with the consent of their family.
Parenthood at an early age
When a pair are close in age, pregnancy at a young age not only affects the quality of the girl’s life, but also that of the boy’s. It’s important to highlight that parenthood at a young age is not natural, not cultural and is a condition created by the colonial period. According to Mayan world view, Jun Winaq represents an element of quality of life. Jun Winaq represents the whole person. According to the concept of Jun Winaq, every woman and every man upon reaching 20 years of age has experienced minimum development physically, mentally and socially allowing them the capabilities to navigate their own independent lives.
What about sexual and reproductive rights?
Information is power. When they do not receive a comprehensive education around sexuality, girls and boys and even adolescents grow up with limited knowledge about their bodies. Without information regarding sexual and reproductive rights they may experience sexual assault and incest, and keep these violations secret.
Information available about sexual and reproductive rights ought to be progressive: for 14 year-olds it can reference the right to live free of discrimination, the right to live free of violence, the right to express feelings without fear or guilt, the right to access information and education about their bodies and sexuality, the right to decide when to marry or not, the right to equality and equity.
As adolescents and young adults mature they can have access to most information. Explaining these rights allows them to make better decisions about their lives and how to anticipate gender and sexual violence. Besides they will pass the knowledge onto their peers, within their family settings and in their communities.
In addition to counting on key figures like teachers, family, community and social media and other means of communication, the empowerment of children, adolescents and young adults regarding sexual and reproductive rights allows them to avoid pregnancy at a young age.
Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights!
Eunice Ramírez Cotóm is a member of OSAR and a woman from the K’iche’ Mayan. She is from Olintepeque in the Department/province of Quetzaltenango.