by Filipa de Castro and Betania Allen-Leigh
What do we know about teen pregnancy in Mexico?
In Mexico, 31.2% of teen girls ages 15 to 19 are sexually active [link in Spanish], and over half (56%) of them have been pregnant. An increase in teen pregnancies from 30 to 37 per 1,000 women between 2005 and 2011 has vaulted Mexico to the top of the list for teenage pregnancy among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Teen pregnancy and motherhood, especially when unintended, carry high risks and costs for both mother and child. Factors such as poverty, malnutrition, reproductive immaturity and gender inequality compromise the health of adolescent mothers and their children. The highest rates of teen pregnancy are concentrated in vulnerable groups burdened with inadequate health conditions, which means that mothers in this age group do not have the necessary support and services. Teenage pregnancy is also associated with increased school dropout rates.
How is the development of children born to teen mothers affected?
The children of teenage mothers face a greater risk of illness, death, abandonment, accidents and abuse than the children of older mothers. Numerous studies show that teen moms lack parenting skills, displaying increased difficulty when it comes to interpreting the needs of their babies (such as their exploratory behavior or desire for attention and care). Poor parenting skills result in interactions with less sensitivity and affection, a less healthy and stimulating environment for the baby, and inadequate levels of nutrition, health care, and cognitive and social stimulation. These vulnerabilities translate into disadvantageous outcomes for the child, including problems with physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. When not addressed, these problems are perpetuated throughout life. As a result, the children of teenage mothers are more likely to have academic problems and an increased risk of repeating a grade in school and failing to complete high school.
What factors could explain this level of teen pregnancy in Mexico?
There is a high level of unmet demand for contraceptives [link in Spanish] among Mexican adolescents. Only 67% of clinics report offering contraceptives in general, and 39.5% make condoms available [link in Spanish]. It is reported that 12.8% of providers refuse to supply emergency contraception to adolescents if not accompanied by an adult, and less than 5% provide counseling or information about condoms to both sexes.
These statistics imply that the sexual and reproductive rights of Mexican teenage girls are not respected. This is a very important issue. We know that when teen girls have the information and resources necessary to exercise their rights, they are able to make decisions about when to have children. They usually postpone childbearing, have fewer children, and complete more years of education.
What can be done?
As a society, we are not giving adolescents the tools to which they are entitled, which are necessary to plan their lives and to decide when to have a family. We are also failing to respect the rights of their future children. Addressing this complex problem requires a multipronged strategy:
- Provide comprehensive sex education to empower and prepare adolescents with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to make decisions that will shape their health and allow them to enjoy the fullness of their sexuality and to exercise their fundamental rights.
- Address adolescents’ unmet need for contraceptives by improving, modernizing and diversifying the supply of contraception [link in Spanish].
- Improve the quality of sexual and reproductive health care for adolescents by correcting inefficiencies in the system, training health care providers, and providing work tools such as care algorithms, educational materials, and an adequate supply of contraceptives.
- Take advantage of teens’ frequent use of new technologies and reach them through the social marketing of contraceptives to facilitate access to and motivate the use of contraception.
- Design evidence-based strategies for use by health and education services that address the needs of adolescent parents, facilitate the early detection of risk factors and provision of prenatal and postpartum care for mother and baby, and encourage teen parents to stay in school and use long-acting reversible contraception, particularly right after delivery.
Tell us on Twitter or in the comment´s section what kind of initiatives are in place in your community to keep teenagers well informed about pregnancy.
Filipa de Castro and Betania Allen-Leigh work at the Department of Public Health Methods, Directorate of Reproductive Health, Center for Population Health Research, National Institute of Public Health of Mexico.