By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, Feb 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - There has been insufficient progress in reducing high teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, three United Nations agencies said on Wednesday, as they warned that rising numbers of girls under 15 were falling pregnant.
Although overall teenage pregnancy rates "dropped slightly" over the past three decades, the region has the second-highest rate globally.
"Despite recent economic growth and social progress on a number of fronts in Latin America and the Caribbean, adolescent fertility rates remain unacceptably high," the agencies said.
The report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) blamed high pregnancy rates on a lack of access to contraception and high levels of sexual violence against girls.
The PAHO is the World Health Organization's regional body.
The report found there were 66.5 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 from 2010 to 2015 across the region compared to 46 births per 1,000 girls in the same age group worldwide.
It said teenage girls with only primary education or no education were up to four times more likely than girls with secondary or higher education to start having children.
The report said governments must improve efforts to combat rape of girls, and highlighted a lack of post-rape care and emergency contraception, as well as restrictive abortion laws.
"Adolescent girls must be protected from sexual violence, and efforts must include engaging men and boys to become partners in the protection and empowerment of adolescent girls," it said.
Attitudes towards sex education needed to change among community leaders, schools and parents, who should acknowledge that adolescents were sexually active and that girls did not have enough protection against sexual violence, the report said.
It also blamed the "persistence" of child marriage, and warned that the current approach prevented adolescents from learning 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 said in a statement on Wednesday.
Complications in pregnancy and childbirth were one of the main causes of death in girls and women aged 15 to 24 in the Americas, it said, adding that the risks of maternal death were highest in girls who give birth before age 15.
It also highlighted the toll on mental health - including depression and suicide - among girls, particularly those who had been raped, and said many girls who became pregnant quit school, which deprived them of an education.
About 15 percent of all pregnancies were in girls younger than 20, with the highest teen pregnancy rates found in Central America, in particular Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. Venezuela and Bolivia have the highest rates in South America.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.