No more child mothers in the Caribbean

No more child mothers in the Caribbean

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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Last week, in this space, we suggested that the novel coronavirus pandemic is sucking up the oxygen in the room, meaning that many important events are going unnoticed because of our understandable preoccupation with the deadly disease.

The weekend launch of the annual Caribbean Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Week — to run from October 18 to 24, 2020 — took place with little more than a whimper, despite raising alarm about the dire consequences of adolescent pregnancies in the region.

With support from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the organisers of the event — a spin-off of Latin American Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Week — are warning that pregnancy during adolescence can have far-reaching negative and irreversible consequences for both the young girl and her child.

Jamaica, with our fair share of teenage, and specifically adolescent pregnancies, had better pay attention if we are serious about coming to grips with the many social ills associated with this unfortunate occurrence.

The week hopes to help put an end to this problem in our region.

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) rank second among the regions of the world in terms of adolescent pregnancy rates, with 60.7 births per 1,000 girls between the age of 15 and 19 years. Each year, five out of every 100 pregnancies occur in girls under the age of 20, and two million children are born to young mothers between the age of 15 and 19 years.

With an estimated adolescent fertility rate of 60.2 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years, the Caribbean subregion is below the overall LAC rate. The rates range from 100.6 in the Dominican Republic to 82.6 in French Guiana, 90.1 in Guyana to 17.2 in Grenada.

We are told that adolescent pregnancy disproportionately affects girls who are already marginalised, and further affects their educational and employment opportunities, thus contributing to the continuation of intergenerational cycles of poverty and exclusion.

Physical consequences and risks of early pregnancy include damage to the pelvic floor and increased risk of pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, premature delivery, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and maternal deaths.

In addition, early pregnancy has potential mental health implications, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and post-traumatic stress, especially when the pregnancy is the result of sexual violence.

Consequences for the child range from premature births; low birth weight; less likely to breastfeed; less likely to receive proper nutrition, health care, and early childhood development, among others.

As with so many other situations, COVID-19 has taken away the focus on prevention of adolescent pregnancy, especially given the interruption of sexual and reproductive health services.

According to UNFPA, if the pandemic closures extend for another six months, with high levels of disruption, the impact on girls and women will be of disastrous proportions — seven million unwanted pregnancies, 31 million cases of gender-based violence, and 13 million child marriages worldwide.

And this would be happening at the worst time possible for us in Jamaica.

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