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Adolescent Pregnancy in Colombia: A Public Health Issue

My house in Medellín is located right next to the hospital in which all the pregnant women who have access to the social health program – which is basically focused on providing health benefits to the people with less economic resources in the country – go in order to receive antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care. What has always called my attention is the enormous amount of young faces that I used to see every day go inside the hospital. An exorbitant number of teenagers make use of the medical care provided by the hospital on a regular basis. I have always wondered about the factors that make the rates of teenage pregnancy in Colombia so high and alarming. At first glance, we could say that the main factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy are quite evident; educational, social and economic components make this particular issue a public health problem that has taken staggering proportions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) points out some of the possible causes of the adolescent pregnancy. I summarize them in the following bullets points:

  • Girls may be under pressure to marry.

  • Girls may have limited educational and employment prospects.

  • Married adolescents are likely to become pregnant and give birth in accordance with social norms.

  • Birth rates among women with low education are higher than for those with secondary or tertiary education.

  • Some adolescents do not know how to avoid becoming pregnant, or are unable to obtain contraceptives.

  • There is a lack of sexuality education.

  • Adolescent girls may be unable to refuse sex because of sexual violence.

As reported by one of the most representative journals in the country: El Colombiano, in Antioquia (one of the biggest and more influential departments in the country, in which Medellín is the capital city): During the last 7 years has been registered 646.364 pregnancies. From this number, 156.327 correspond to women in ages between 15 and 19 years old. But it is even more shocking that 8.002 of those women are in an age ranged from 10 to 14. It is also quite alarming that in the majority of these pregnancies a crime of sexual abuse has been committed, that is to say that the sexual encounter was coerced. However, since no complaints are presented, these crimes remain unpunished. In many occasions the sexual activity is consensual, which complies with the lack of claims submitted to the justice system. On the other hand, becoming pregnant at a very early age not only has personal, social, and psychological consequences, but also represents a substantial risk for the mother and the baby. In this regard, The World Health Organization also states: “The risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is much higher for adolescents than for older women. The younger the adolescent, the greater the risk. ”

From any perspective, adolescent pregnancy is a serious matter with many implications for the person, the family and the society. This problem cannot be ignored or disregard just like it seems, it has been neglected for many years now, especially in countries like Colombia. There is still a lot of work in this regard. Educational policies need to be developed as well as a stronger law enforcement that punishes coerced sexual relations. The change must come from every corner, the family, the school, the society and the government. Maybe in that way teenage pregnancy will stop rising.

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