GRPA Annual General Meeting… Teen mothers give birth to one-fifth of all babies born in Guyana

TEEN mothers give birth to one-fifth of all babies born in Guyana, a study has shown.

This was disclosed by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative for Guyana and Suriname, Marianne Flach, during a presentation at the Annual General Meeting of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) on Friday evening at Cara Lodge in Quamina Street, Georgetown.

Flach said the 2014 study indicates that 15 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 have begun child bearing, and approximately 12 per cent of adolescent girls have had sex before the age of 15. Moreover, 62 per cent of adolescents aged 15-19 have unmet contraception needs.

According to the World Population Report, in 2013, Guyana has had the second highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in both the Caribbean and South America, with 97 out of every 1000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 giving birth.

In the Caribbean, Flach said, the rate of adolescent pregnancy is much higher than the growth average for countries in the most developed and less developed regions.

She said the Caribbean Commission on Youth Development highlights adolescent pregnancy as a major cost to Caribbean countries, amounting to two per cent of GDP when health care and lost opportunity costs are taken into account.

Flach added that girls are most likely to experience unwanted pregnancies under circumstances of social exclusion, poverty, marginalisation, and gender inequality; and they are unable to fully enjoy or exercise their basic human rights, access health care, schooling, information, services, and economic opportunities.

In addition, the absence of age-appropriate reproductive health education, including sexuality education for in- and out-of-school children, leaves teens making uniformed, and often risky, decisions.

Most teen pregnancies, Flach said, result in girls dropping out of school, putting them at a disadvantage and leaving them vulnerable.

“Also, (a ) young girl who become(s) pregnant below the age of 16 (is) considered high-risk, which means that she can develop complications during pregnancy, which increases the risks of disabilities and deaths for her and her baby, because her body is not fully developed and not yet prepared for pregnancy and child birth.”

In addition, the UNICEF Rep further noted, such a situation is a case of sexual abuse, since the age of consent is 16 years.

In 2012, she said, a study of teenage mothers who attended the obstetrics clinic at the Georgetown Public Hospital found that teen mothers were inadequately informed about sexual and reproductive health, including contraception, which places them at a significant risk of rapid unintended repeat pregnancies and of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STI).

Emphasising that physical, sexual and violent abuse are also contributing factors, Flach explained that there is an unacceptably high instance of rape and sexual coercion amongst young girls. She said that part of the problem deals with issues of gender-based inequalities when it comes to responsibility and power in relationships, and this undermines the fundamental sexual and reproductive rights of these girls.

“We cannot choose to ignore teen pregnancy, or confine it to a social or economic cultural issue,” she said.

“We must also avoid blaming young mothers, and instead look for ways that ensure that they have the support they need to complete their education and ensure that they and their babies can live healthy lives and achieve their full potential,” Flach asserted.

“When we address the issue of adolescent pregnancy, we also contribute to the improvement of maternal and child health, and to an increase in the number of girls completing their education, resulting in increased economic productivity.”

As such, she suggested, adolescents should have access to age-appropriate accurate information as well as quality sexual and reproductive health services and commodities, and that these critical health services be accessed without judgment and discrimination.

UNICEF, she said, is supporting programmes with the Ministry of Education to ensure that all adolescents have age-appropriate, gender-culturally-sensitive and comprehensive life skills-based sexuality information at all levels of the education system.

Meanwhile, Minister of Public Health, Dr George Norton, has said that teenage pregnancy has escalated into a global crisis, with more than seven million teenage girls in poor countries giving birth before the age of 18 years.

He said girls under the age of 15 have accounted for over two million of the 7.3 million girls that are impregnated each year, and the current trends remain.

“It is estimated that there will be an upsurge of adolescent birth among girls under 15, swelling to 3 million a year in the year 2030,” he said.

Also at the event were GRPA Executive Director, Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth; GRPA President Dr. Karen Boyle, and students among special invitees. Special presentations to underscore the impact of teen pregnancy were also done by Keisha Bacchus and Vidiamatie Persaud.

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