Colombia to tackle high rate of teens leaving school because of pregnancy - paper

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 2 Feb 2012 17:12 GMT
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BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - Colombia has announced a multi-million dollar initiative to tackle the high number of teenage girls dropping out of school because they become pregnant, a problem the government says exacerbates poverty and reduces development in the South American nation.

Nearly 20 percent of teenage girls in Colombia aged between 15 to 19 are and or have been pregnant, according to latest government figures.

“Our aim is to reduce that figure (nearly 20 percent) to 15 percent by 2015, as is planned in the Millennium Development Goals,” Cristina Plazas, chief government advisor on gender and women rights, is quoted as saying in El Tiempo newspaper.

"Half of those teenagers who leave school say they do so because they became pregnant and or became parents. Their future is going to be harder, since leaving school affects their chances of getting formal jobs," Plazas said.

Part of the government’s initiative to tackle Colombia’s high rates of teenage pregnancy includes improving access to family planning and health services and sex education in schools.

While a high number of teenage pregnancies are unwanted, 34 percent of Colombian teenage girls said they wanted to become mothers, according to a 2010 local study.

The paper quoted Plazas as saying the government hopes by involving numerous officials from the health, justice, defence, education and culture ministries, that the problem of teenage pregnancies will be viewed not only as a public health issue but also a social problem hampering economic growth and development.

Teenage mothers in Colombia, like in other Latin American countries, are more likely to earn less as an adult, making it difficult to break the cycle of poverty that grips many young mothers. They are also much more likely to become parents of children who themselves become teenage parents, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

UNFPA says  the common practice of getting married before the age of 20, poor access to healthcare and family planning, little sex education in schools and incorrect or low use of birth control methods are key factors behind Latin America's high teenage pregnancy rates. Only around 11 percent of sexually active teenagers in the region use some form of contraception.