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Colombia steps up campaign to stem teen pregnancy

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 3 Sep 2014 06:58 GMT
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BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Colombia has created a new government body to reduce the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the country, a problem that shows little sign of abating in the Andean nation.

Nearly 13,000 Colombian girls aged between 10 and 14 became pregnant in the last two years, and poverty is one factor behind Colombia’s high teenage pregnancy rates, which are among the highest in Latin America.

“Teenage pregnancy is both a cause and consequence of big economic inequalities,” Cristina Plazas, the new head of Colombia’s child and family protection agency (ICBF), said in a statement on Tuesday.

“One in every five women in Colombia between 15 to 19 years of age are or have been pregnant, and what’s most worrying is that 64 percent of those pregnancies were not planned,” Plazas said, adding that a new entity exclusively tasked with tackling teenage pregnancy will be created within the ICBF government agency.

Having sex with a child under the age of 14 is a crime in Colombia, carrying a prison sentence from 12 to 20 years, but few are convicted of the crime, and even fewer people are sent to jail.

Rights groups say adolescent pregnancy is fuelled by rape at the hands of relatives and stepfathers, which is still largely a taboo subject in Colombia, a lack of education and access to contraception and poor sex education in schools.

With 20 percent of teenage girls (aged up to 19) pregnant over the course of this year, Colombia is unlikely to meet its target to reduce teen pregnancy to 15 percent by 2015 as part of its U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

CYCLE OF POVERTY

Teenage mothers in Colombia, like in other countries in Latin American and in the developing world, are more likely to earn less as adults and drop out of school, making it difficult to break the cycle of poverty that grips many young mothers. They are also much more likely to have a second child shortly after their first child, and become parents of children who go on to become teenage parents themselves, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

Teenage pregnancy can lead to health problems for the mother and child. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19 in many developing countries, while babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to be born premature and have a low birth weight, which can affect their health and development, according to the World Health Organization.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region in the world to see an increase in the percentage of women experiencing at least one birth before the age of 15, according to surveys carried out between 1990 and 2011, the UNFPA said in a report last year.

(Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)

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