By Sonia Boddie, Caricom Youth Ambassador and One Young World Ambassador
According to a new report released on October 30th, 2013 issued by the United Nations Population Fund entitled, “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy”, Teenage Pregnancy is “A Huge Global Problem” that is on the rise, and requires urgent attention.
The phrase “global problem” signifies that this challenge does not require a passport or visa, to present its ugly head in our Federation, but that sadly, it is already residing here.
As an advocate for Youth and Women Empowerment, I feel particularly compelled to write about this issue, which is creating a bottleneck for young women to achieve their full potential, and for them to more easily shatter the glass ceiling, that more and more young women are making strides in breaking.
As highlighted by the above-mentioned report, “Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant.” However, when looking at the statistics of teenage pregnancy in developing countries, which indicate that around “7.3 million girls under the age of 18 gives birth each year”, of which “2 million are to girls who are 14 or younger”, many of whom suffer “grave long-term health and social consequences from pregnancy,” the magnitude of this problem becomes more evident, and it is obvious, that certainly the girls cannot solely be blamed.
Without hesitation or fear of rebuttal, I must state that I am wholeheartedly convinced that the blame for these statistics must not be placed only at the feet of the young girls, but must rather be shared by the men who impregnate these girls, by their parents, by the society, and of course, by the government.
The old adage, “it takes a community to raise a child”, still holds true, and indeed if we are to decrease the chances of more young daughters of our soil becoming pregnant too early, we must rally together and play our part in encouraging our young daughters and sons, to practice abstinence.
To teenage girls everywhere, I say to you, keep your books open and your legs closed. Sex is an activity for adults, not for children. If you are still attending school, your main focus should be to excel in your studies, so that upon completion you can earn yourself respectable employment or attend a prestigious college to further your education. If you still depend on your parents, for food, clothes, shelter and lunch money to attend school, clearly you are not in a position to adequately take care of yourself, and certainly not fit to take care of a child. Motherhood in Childhood, not only negatively impacts your life, and the child’s life, but it creates an economic and social burden on our societies, as many times the Social Services Departments have to step up, and financially and otherwise assist parents, thereby creating significant drain on already struggling economies.
As highlighted by the report, teenage mothers usually forego significant annual income over their lifetime, and “if adolescent girls in Brazil and India had been able to wait until their early 20s, the countries would have greater economic productivity equal to over $3.5 billion and $7.7 billion, respectively.” Therefore, teenage girls, you owe it to yourself to say ‘No’ to sex, so that you may enjoy the joys of your childhood and adolescence, and blossom into the fine young adults God wants us all to be, without the added burden of raising a child meanwhile, you are still a child. You also owe to your country, to make a significant contribution to the growth of the economy.
To the men who impregnate teenage girls, or who engage in unprotected sex with teenagers, I beg of you to desist from engaging in such practices and to allow our young daughters to mature properly and to blossom, instead of picking these precious fruits before they are even fully ripe. Remember, someday you may be blessed with a daughter of your own, and certainly you would not want for some adult male, to place a stumbling block in her path to academic and personal development. Furthermore, I must remind you men that in most jurisdictions there are still laws that outlaw having sex with a minor, which on summary conviction, could see you spending in excess of 20 years behind bars. Is it really worth it? No, it is not. Therefore, stop robbing the cradle, and leaving them to cradle.
Parents, we are in the 21st century, and we can no longer act as if talking about the proverbial “bird and bees” that is sex, is taboo. This technologically-driven age that we now live in has exposed our children to so much information, that we must step up and play our part in highlighting what is right, from what is wrong. We must begin to have conversations about abstinence, as early as age ten with our girls, and even our boys, as there have been cases of nine-year olds becoming pregnant across the globe, and even within the Caribbean. We cannot wait until the proverbial horse has bolted the stable, to take action. We must be proactive rather than reactive, if we are to bring the statistics of teenage pregnancy to an all time low. It is also imperative that greater vigilance be exercised on our children, and more effective monitoring must be done, to very early detect behavioural changes in our children and address them accordingly.
To the society, I say we must run this race together as one big team, because “no man is an island”, and only together we can achieve. Hence, it is important that we continue being our brother’s keeper, and empower, inspire and encourage our teens when necessary. Let us never turn a blind eye to a child, because he or she is not our own. It is virtually impossible, for parents to be everywhere that children are, but as a wider society, we have a civic responsibility to protect, respect and guide the children of our communities, and lend support to other parents, to ensure that no other child’s childhood is derailed by motherhood.
The Government must acknowledge that the report has spoken. The ball is now in your court, to create and implement stronger policies that deter teenage girls and also boys, from engaging in sex. More serious penalties must be put in place for mothers who knowingly allow their teen daughters to have sexual relationships, and for men who engage in sexual activities with minors. Also, more educational campaigns should be put in place especially in our schools, to preach abstinence to our teens and to educate them about the risks and consequences associated with sex, especially at an early age, and to emphasize the importance of staying in school and getting a good education. Similarly, governments must ensure that policies are in place to assist struggling families, so that vulnerability does not lead to economic dependence on a man, which then leads to teenage pregnancy. Young girls must be made aware that there are alternative choices, than to lead a life that could inevitably lead to teenage pregnancy.
To my beloved people of St.Kitts and Nevis, I therefore say to you the writing is on the wall. Let us not wait until our tiny Federation graduates to the rank of one of the Caribbean countries with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, but rather, let us take the “bull by its horns” now. I am certain each and every one of you reading this article, is aware of at least one case of teenage pregnancy in your life time, and that is One case too much.
As echoed by, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the United Nation’s Population Fund’s Executive Director, “The birth or pregnancy in one adolescent is unacceptable.” To tackle this issue we must therefore take a holistic approach, and only working together we can accomplish this goal. Hence, let us be reminded that “a chain is as strong as its weakest link”, so let us make a start today, and begin playing our part, to end Motherhood in Childhood.