The people of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have been making some economic and social progress but are yet to take action against their high rates of teenage pregnancies.
The region continues to be having the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the world, according to a report released by three United Nations agencies on Wednesday.
The report launched by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned that rising numbers of girls under 15 in the region were getting pregnant.
It said while the global adolescent pregnancy rate is estimated at 46 births per 1,000 girls, adolescent pregnancy rates in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to be the second highest in the world, with an estimated 66.5 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years.
This figure is second only to Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report titled, ‘Accelerating progress toward the reduction of adolescent pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean’.
The report indicated that the highest teen pregnancy rates were found in Central America, specifically Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic and Guyana have the highest rates. Venezuela and Bolivia have the highest rates in South America.
According to the UNFPA, Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region where there is a rising trend in pregnancies among adolescents under 15 years.
An estimated 15 per cent of all pregnancies happen annually in girls under 20 years in the region, with 2 million children being born to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 years.
“Adolescent fertility rates remain high in our region, affecting mostly population groups living under conditions of vulnerability and highlighting major inequities between and within countries. Teen pregnancy can have a profound effect on girls’ health over their life course,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne was quoted by regional media portal Caribbean 360.
“It not only hinders their psychosocial development, but is also linked to poor health outcomes and higher risks of maternal death. In addition, their children are at higher risk for poor health and social outcomes,” he added.
The report attributed the high pregnancy rates on the rise in sexual violence against girls and the lack of access to contraception. Teenage girls with only primary education or no education were up to four times more likely to get pregnant than girls with secondary or higher education, the report added.
Child marriage also prevented adolescents from getting to know about sexual health issues.
“The lack of information and restricted access to comprehensive sex education and adequate sexual and reproductive health services are directly related to adolescent pregnancies,” said Esteban Caballero, UNFPA’s regional director.
“Many of these pregnancies are not a deliberate choice, but rather the result, for example, of an abusive relationship,” he was quoted by Reuters.
Girls who give birth under the age of 15 and women aged 15 to 24 in the Americas get complications in pregnancy and childbirth and even risk maternal death.
For girls who are raped, they go through depression with some even attempting suicide. Some of these girls who get pregnant in the process are forced to stay out school.
Moving forward, the report advised parents, community leaders and schools to change the perception they have towards sex education. The report urged people in the community to realise that adolescent girls are sexually active but lack protection against sexual violence.