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Jun 25, 2015

UNFPA Tackles Teenage Pregnancy Across the Caribbean

Teenage pregnancy is a growing issue for Belize and the wider Caribbean region, and more so as the teen moms are of a younger age every year. The call for action has sounded loudly again and this time, the spouses of Heads of Government from around the Caribbean answered. Special Envoy for Women and Children hosted the event in partnership with the UNFPA to chart a way forward as a network. The issue is a very complex one and all hands are needed on deck to tackle this problem. Andrea Polanco attended today’s event and files this report.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Every year, approximately one thousand five hundred babies are born to teen moms. Simply put, one in five babies or about twenty percent of live births are to teenage mothers in Belize- but it’s not unique to home- this is the reality for thousands of young girls across the region. But addressing this issue isn’t just about targeting the young mothers.

 

Sheila Roseau, Director, UNFPA SROC

“It is quite serious and it is something that needs everybody’s attention. Generally the birthrate in countries is normally forty nine per thousand births. In the Caribbean, it is sixty five. Adolescent pregnancy we have for instance in Guyana it is 97 per birth rate. We also have in Jamaica. Belize also has a high percentage as well. For Belize it is ninety per thousand birth rate. So, it is quite serious.”

 

Sheila Roseau

Andrea Polanco

“How much does UNFPA include men in the conversation, in terms of education?

 

Sheila Roseau

“I am really happy you ask that question because it is absolutely important, because they don’t get pregnant on their own. Engaging men and boys is one area of our work that we do at UNFPA, especially in the area of violence prevention. Even when we are talking to them for adolescent pregnancy, parenting as well because in some instances you have- there may be an adolescent boy who is the father of the adolescent girl’s child, so you have to talk to them, you have to involve them and give them the necessary information so they too can make informed decision. So, absolutely, it is a partnership. We cannot work and exclude them because we will be speaking alone.”

 

Needless to say, teenage pregnancy is a growing health, economic and human rights issue.  But just how much pressure does it put on public resources and government funds?

 

Judith Alpuche

Judith Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation & Poverty Alleviation

“It’s quite a bit, actually. I was looking at some of the studies done by the World Bank for the Caribbean and the numbers are quite staggering economically. We all know the social costs but many times we don’t look at the economic cost. If you think about the fact that for the health issues attendant for a pregnancy that the girl is more likely to have a high risk pregnancy; a bay that is low birth weight or premature. What does that mean in terms of the public health system and the cost to the public health system? Many of these girls come from low socio-economic backgrounds. If you are going to have education services that support them in going back to school, there are special services that need to be built in and that has a cost. But apart from that, there is also the opportunity cost because early pregnancy or early motherhood limits a girl, especially girls’ economic opportunities. So, what does that mean about the potential that that young woman or man had in terms of earning an income? Some of the studies that we are seeing from around the Caribbean, it represents something of around ninety two million US dollars to a hundred plus million dollars, so it is quite significant.”

 

While these Jamaican stories might sound very simple; the issue of teenage pregnancy really isn’t and neither is addressing it.

 

Judith Alpuche

“It is a challenge because it is just such a complex issue and it brings together the perfect storm about a number of hot button issues that we don’t want to talk about in Belize; Sex and Sexuality; Sex Education for our children; Parents really sitting down and having a conversation, which is the most powerful tool really; opening up those communication lines with young people about access to contraception for young people. Yes, we want to talk about abstinence and morals and those are very, very important things, but we have to look at other aspects as well if we are going to have a comprehensive response. So, it brings together those perfect storms of issues and that really makes it difficult.”

 

CARICOM has recognized this and sought the assistance of UNFPA. And to build on that, several first ladies are hoping to use their platform to tackle this growing issue.

 

Sheila Roseau

“The goal of the plan is to reduce adolescent pregnancy by twenty percent by the year 2019. It has five areas that can assist us by doing so. Looking at providing information services and information.”

 

Sandra Granger

Judith Alpuche

“The main intention, objective here is to create a network of first ladies who will utilize their platform in the Caribbean to ensure that finances etc… are allocated to this issue. There is a regional integrated framework for action coming out of CARICOM, so that’s really the hymn sheet for the choir. So, this is really a recruitment of influential women in the Caribbean who can stand up on behalf of the Caribbean girl child.”

 

Sandra Granger, First Lady, Guyana

“I think we really have to start moving towards addressing this issue frontally and making everyone knows that it is neither acceptable and it is criminal, especially for children who are under the age of consent.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.

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