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The Growing Problem of Teenage Mothers

The Growing Problem of Teenage Mothers

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Published by: Thavam on Sep 16, 2013
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07/04/2014

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By Aanya Wipulasena-
Sunday,
 
September 15,2013
Poverty, alcoholism, unstable families and lack of proper sexeducation; the main reasons, say health officials
Pregnancies due to rape, incest on the riseIt’s an inconvenient truth–but the increasing number of teenagepregnancies is a troubling concern for both state authorities as well associal workers. Among the reported cases this year, girls as young as 11-years of age have become pregnant, falling victim to abuse and in manycases, incest.According to Family Health Bureau (FHB) statistics, on average, 20,000females below the age of 20 become pregnant each year. Experts in thearea say the main reasons are poverty, alcoholism, unstable familyrelationships and lack of proper sex education.
We have seen an increased number of childpregnancies in areas such as Batticaloa, Puttalam,Anuradhapura and Colombo during the past few years,with Batticaloa reporting 11.2%, Puttalam 9.6%,Anuradhapura 8.5% and Colombo 6.7%. We observedthat the main reason was the poor socio-economiccondition of the homes of the teenage mothers,”Consultant Community Physician- Adolescent Health of the Family Health Bureau, Dr. Manjula Danansuriya said.
In most cases the mothers of these girls have goneabroad for employment and this leaves the young girlsvulnerable to needless advances from those who arearound them,” she said. Dr. Danansuriya pointed to another factor—a highnumber of young mothers where there was a bigger population of Muslims.“Since these girls are encouraged to get married at an early age there aremany teenage pregnancies reported in areas such as Batticaloa andPuttalam,” she said.In Colombo, she said, teen pregnancies were prevalent among the urbanslum population where there was a high rate of school dropouts and lack of proper sex education. However the estate sector in the country reportedthe highest number of teen pregnancies with the most vulnerable age being
Dr. ManjulaDanansuriya
 
between 15-18 years.In another disturbing observation Dr. Danansuriya said the mothers of theseteen mothers too had got pregnant early in their lives “This is like a viciouscycle. In most of the cases we have come across we saw the tendency of the mother of the teenager having children at a very early age and thus shewould not oppose her daughter marrying at an early age.”Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Department of Community Medicine,University of Colombo, revealed that local schools did not have a conduciveenvironment for sex education or how to avoid unnecessary advances fromthe opposite sex.
When it is discovered that a student is having a loveaffair with a teacher, other teachers and students look atthem in a peculiar manner. These students are punishedor even thrown out of the school without being told why itis wrong to behave in such a manner,” Dr. M. C.Weerasinghe of the Department of Community Medicinesaid.He said the study also showed many teenagers had gotentangled in untoward relationships and situations merelyby communicating on mobile phones. He said many werethe instances where adolescents had eloped aftercarefully planning everything via the mobile phone.Pointing out to another loophole Mr. Weerasinghe said,“Our legal system has problems of its own too. We found that in some casesthe Registrar had married an under aged person stating that the two partieshad come to an agreement sometimes even going to the extent of forgingbirth certificates. These incidents are taking place quite often, he saidadding that a control mechanism should be in place to stop it.Dr. Weerasinghe said although the legal age for marriage was 18 years,pregnancies should be delayed till at least the early 20s as it is proven thata woman who is in her teens is not prepared physically or psychologically tohave a baby. “Early pregnancies can cause psychological problems for theyoung mother depriving her from finishing her education and moreimportantly not being mentally prepared to bear the responsibilities of being a mother,” he said.Meanwhile, according to Sarvodaya Suwasetha Sewa Society Director,Bianca Abeygoonawardena, there is an increase in the number of pregnancies caused by incest relationships. “Most of the teenage motherscome from unsettled families where the mother is working abroad or arefrom separated families. Also the attitude of a father plays a focal role,” sheadded.
BiancaAbeygoonawardena
 
Ms. Abeygoonawardena said that in most cases involving incestrelationships a daughter was being exploited by the father, step father,sibling or a close relation because of the absence of a mother . “When therelationship between the father and mother is not strong the fathersometimes turns his attention on the eldest daughter. In some cases thefather has been sexually abusing the daughter for a long period of timebefore the mother gets to know or the victim seeks help,” she said.In some instances, she said, because of the poverty of these families thedaughter keeps silent for fear that the father would be taken in by thepolice thereby depriving the family of a breadwinner. “Sometimes themother also tries to keep the pregnancy a secret or is threatened by thefather to keep it concealed. Because of this fear, the pregnancy doesn’tcome to light.”She said they have come across victims who are younger than 15 years of age. Some girls, she said, don’t even know that they have been raped orpregnant until a long time has lapsed.
We see that the lack of a healthy relationship between family membersaffect teenagers in many ways. Even in the urban setting when children donot have someone to talk to, they involuntarily get drawn to affairs andeven sexual relationships with people who show the slightest interest inthem,” she warned.She said in cases where young pregnant mothers have sought theassistance of their centre, the babies are given for adoption with themothers consent. If not, she said, the babies are transferred to a Children’sHome until the mothers are old enough to look after them.
If the mothers of the teen mothers agree to look after both teenager andher baby we allow them to take the responsibility. But in most cases theythemselves come from verypoor families so we advisethem of the consequencesbefore they take such adecision,” she said.At the home run bySarvodaya Suwasetha Sewa,Ma Sevana, the girls aregiven counselling andvocational training to helpthem improve their livingstandards. Some girls stay inthe facility for as long as twoyears, Ms.Abeygoonawardena saidadding that in many cases

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