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COLOMBIA
A halfway achievement in adolescent pregnancy reduction
Susan Abad
6/26/2017
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Although there are fewer pregnancies in adolescents aged between 15 and 19, an increase is observed in girls under 14.

The official statistics revealing that, although by a slight margin, the number of adolescent pregnancies dropped in Colombia for the first time in 20 years, at the same time set off alarms because of the increase in the number of pregnancies in girls aged under 15, with pregnancies even in girls as young as 13.

The survey taken in Colombia that measures the adolescent pregnancy phenomenon every five years is the National Demographic and Health Survey (ENDS), developed by the Health Ministry. For the most recent one, in 2015, interviews were conducted with 38,718 women in reproductive age, between 13 and 49 years old, and 35,783 men between the ages of 13 and 59.

When the survey was first conducted in 1990, 12.8 percent of adolescent girls in the country between 15 and 19 years old either were mothers at the time or were pregnant. In 1995 the figure, in the same age range, increased to 17.4 percent; reaching 19.1 percent in 2000 and 20.5 percent in 2005. However, a slight 1 percent decrease was reported in 2010 bringing the figure down to 19.5 percent and it is in 2015 when the most drastic reduction of 2.1 percent took place, with the figure dropping to 17.4 percent.

The Education Ministry estimates that there are 150,000 annual births to mothers aged 15 to 19; 6,500 births to girls younger than 14, and it places the median age at which young teens have their first sexual intercourse at between 14 and 15 years old.

However, despite the encouraging results coming from ENDS 2015, the differences seen in the educational level are still worrisome. At the time of the last survey, 5.4 percent of pregnant girls only had primary education, while 2.9 percent had secondary education and 2.6 percent attended higher education. Fits to mention that pregnancy is the second reason, behind the lack of money, for why women between 13 and 24 years of age abandon their studies.

Likewise, income is determinant in the teen pregnancy phenomenon. While in the poorest level 5.3 percent of girls got pregnant for the first time, in the higher economic level the figure was 2.4 percent and in the highest it was 1.2 percent. The geographical location also makes a difference: 14.6 percent of young girls between 13 and 19 who live in rural areas were pregnant; while this was only true for 8.4 percent of girls in urban areas.

“I believe in my future”
But, how were these results reached? Information was a determining factor; 95.9 percent of those girls surveyed aged 13 and 14 in ENDS 2015 said they had received information on sexuality, as did 97.2 percent of  adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years old.

Diva Moreno, of the Direction of Promotion and Prevention of Reproductive Health in Adolescents of the Health Ministry, explains to Latinamerica Press that “since 2005, when it was learned that one in five young girls under 19 was pregnant, we started working with new strategies. The first thing we did was to acknowledge that the problem is not exclusive to the adolescent, but that it has multiple variants: proximate determinants, individual factors, intermediate variables and distal factors. Services with specialized treatment for adolescents were progressively adapted to the 33 departments of the country, where the cases were not disclosed nor were judgment passed. This has contributed firstly, to bring the problem to light and for the National Economic and Social Policy Council (COMPES), in its rule 147 of 2012, to force 14 of the country to comply with the “guidelines for the development of a strategy for teen pregnancy prevention and the promotion of life projects for children, adolescents and young teens, aged between 6 and 19 years old.”

However, “the campaigns did not bear fruit at the beginning, mainly because they were a series of talks by adults, and from adults to young people, giving them information about the risks from engaging in sexual activity, such as pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases,” says to Latinamerica Press Doctor Juan Carlos Vargas, scientific advisor of Profamilia, a non-profit private institution specialized in sexual and reproductive rights.

“Once the campaigns changed and started including young people themselves as the generators of knowledge, the panorama changed,” he says.

The most representative campaign was the one conducted in the period 2015-2016 between the state, through the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) and Profamilia called “I Believe in my Future,” that had as a motto “Instead of pregnancy, my dreams”; so that young people can see themselves at 20, at 25, or at 30 years old, on how a pregnancy can interrupt their dreams and life plans.

Pregnancies in girls under 14
In 2013, the Education Ministry developed a tool to combat violence in the classroom, establish a roadmap for pregnancy prevention and reinforce sexual education. President Juan Manuel Santos signed a law giving more coverage to the reproductive rights plan: the National System of School Coexistence and Training for the Exercise of Human Rights, Sexual Education and Prevention.

But the biggest concern and one that is not mentioned by the media, is pregnancy in young girls under 14.

The statistics show that 11.8 percent of women 19 or under who participated in the survey in 2005 had had their first sexual intercourse before the age of 15. In 2010 the number was 13.8 percent and in 2015 the number went to 15.5 percent. In boys, the latest figure was 30 percent.

This is very serious, taking into account that a pregnancy in a girl under 14 is a crime when the father is of legal age, which is generally the case.

“While we understand this critical issue; it is difficult to determine precisely its magnitude, because a younger population has been included in the latest versions of the survey, and we don’t have a way to compare it to earlier years,” Vargas reflects.

Meanwhile, Lina Herrera, expert in teen pregnancy prevention of the ICBF tells Latinamerica Press that, without leaving aside the early pregnancy strategies  it is necessary to reinforce the prevention of subsequent pregnancies.

“The evidence tells us that three out of five cases of girls who have had a child before reaching 18 years, have another child within two years,” she says. “This is why we work to strengthen their life plans, trying to get them back to school.”  —Latinamerica Press.


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Adolescent pregnancy prevention campaigns are more effective when including young teens. / ICBF
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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