Date: Sun, 26 Jul 98 16:08:33 CDT
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Highest Teen Pregnancy Rate in Central America
By Roberto Fonseca, IPS, 21 July 1998
MANAGUA, Jul 21 (IPS) - Norma Solorzano is only 16 years old but she works in a handicraft workshop to maintain her six-month-old daughter.
The baby's father, also a teenager, does not live with them, nor does he help Norma with the baby. He abandoned her shortly after she gave birth, after trying to make her abort by beating her. "He was very bad to me because he had other women," she says. "He came home only to fight with me. When I was seven months pregnant, he had already beaten me twice."
She used to take contraceptive pills but, she says, "when I started going out with him, he threw them out. I bought more, but he insisted on my not using them. I didn't say anything and so I got pregnant."
Besides the physical violence, Norma also suffered psychological abuse: "He said that when I had my child he would take it from me, but now he hasn't even given her his surname."
According to official figures, between 40 and 45 percent of all pregnancies registered in Nicaragua's public health system involve girls 15 to 19 years old, an age group that is considered a high obstetric risk.
"Fifty-nine percent of maternal deaths are registered among women aged between 19 and 25," says Edna Quiroz of the Ministry of Health. "Nicaragua has the highest number of adolescent pregnancies in Central America. That should make us reflect and take action targetting that sector."
Like Norma, thousands of girls become pregnant as a result of pressure from men to prove their "love" to them.
In fact, a study by the Nicaraguan Women's Institute (INIM) found that five out of every 10 girls begin their sex lives because of love for their partners. Among men, that proportion drops to 35 percent, according to the report, titled 'A Quarter of a Century in the Literature about Teenage Pregnancies'. Only five percent of the girls surveyed responded that they had their first sexual relations out of curiosity.
Between 88 and 92 percent of adolescent mothers in Nicaragua depend economically on their parents and relatives, as most of them lack professional skills, according to the INIM study. Moreover, more than 80 percent drop out of school, as Norma did.
She is now learning handicraft at the Young and Adolescent Mothers' Project, funded by the European Union, where she gets provisions, clothing, professional counselling and medical assistance for her daughter when she falls sick.
"Before, I ued to wander around," she recalls. "I had nowhere to sleep and I slept on the streets. I don't like that now, because I work and with the little I earn, I buy things for myself and my baby." She says she wants to go back to school when her daughter is a year old.
Early pregnancy does not only bring a girls' education to a premature end. It also brings on greater parental repression, explains psychologist Jaqueline Vargas, director of the Adolescent Mothers Project, run by the non- governmental Two Generations organization.
"Parents start repressing and exercising more control over them, on top of the social rejection that the girls experience," says Vargas. "They suffer a series of traumas both before and after they give birth. All this must be treated with therapy so that they can recover, but because of a lack of resources and the conditions in the country, the problem is rarely addressed in depth."
The Adolescent Mothers Project was launched four years ago in two low-income neighbourhoods in Managua and has since been expanded to cover four neighbourhoods. Almost 70 percent of the young women it targets are aged between 14 and 16 years.
"Most of the pregnancies occur in girls between 15 and 16 years old. But there is a significant number of girls who become pregnant at 12 and 13," says Vargas.
Solving the problem, she feels, requires the participation of several sectors, including education authorities, parents and youth organizations. (END/IPS/rf/ff/pr/ea/kb/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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