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Teen pregnancy, also known as adolescent pregnancy, may be one of Guyana’s biggest issues yet it gets far too little attention. One may have expected that the multi-faceted negative impact of this widespread and common problem would have caused much concern and alarm to decision-makers, but that is not the case. Instead, those in positions of authority occasionally mention the matter but take few concrete actions to address it. According to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), some 22 to 30 per cent of births in Guyana are the result of teen Pregnancy, with higher numbers occurring in hinterland communities. Tackling teenage pregnancy should therefore be placed front and centre on government’s agenda; such an action is long overdue.
Teen pregnancy occurs when a girl becomes pregnant and is expected to give birth before her twentieth birthday. This should be of great concern because of the severity of the numerous consequences associated with the occurrence. Pregnancy in such young women often result in undesirable social, medical, economic, psychological and other effects. The pregnant teen may be socially stigmatised. The health of the teen, and that of her baby — if the baby survives — are likely to be affected; risks of low birth weight, premature labour, anaemia, and other serious issues are frequently associated with teen births. The young mother may have to drop out of school, cutting short her education and damaging her future prospects. And, perhaps most alarming of all, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), teenage mothers are 7 times more likely to be suicide victims compared with other teens. Specialists report that children born to teenage mothers are more likely to have physical, mental, educational and developmental problems, and there is an increased incidence of delinquency.
Social scientists say that adolescent pregnancy is highly correlated with poverty and lack of good education. Medical specialists agree that some drugs of abuse have a positive correlation with teenage pregnancy, particularly alcohol, cannabis and ecstasy, all of which reduce sexual inhibition in humans. Other contributing factors include family and social dysfunction; a teen could become pregnant as a result of incest or rape. The problem is an international one, but appears more intense in developing countries and marginalised communities. In Guyana, the Ministry of Health has repeatedly reported that domestic abuse — Including sexual abuse — is an enormous contributing factor. Meanwhile, even in the more developed United Kingdom (UK) some 70 per cent of teenage mothers reported that they became pregnant following a rape. A worldwide meta-study conducted by the UK government concluded that teenagers were far more likely to become pregnant if they came from a home which had no father. That finding should be of particular concern to Guyanese authorities if and when they decide to get serious about addressing the matter; many households in Guyana do not have a father figure.
According to a recent WHO report — with is evidently relevant to Guyana — “Several factors contribute to adolescent pregnancies and births. In many societies, girls are under pressure to marry and bear children early. In the least developed countries, at least 39 per cent of girls marry before age 18 and 12 per cent before the age of 15. In many places girls choose to become pregnant because they have limited educational and employment prospects. Often, in such societies, motherhood is valued and marriage or union and childbearing may be the best of the limited options available.”
While it is acknowledged that authorities in Guyana are aware of the problem and may be taking a few token steps to deal with the matter, not enough action is being taken. Talking about the problem and discussing possible solutions will not help unless such discussions result in real action. The fact is, numerous studies and analyses of the situation in Guyana have been undertaken by reputable international agencies. The data on which corrective action should be based is available. The recommendations for specific remedies are also available. However, what is apparently lacking is local political will. Guyana’s population is small, and Guyana’s political leaders claim to be caring and competent; the time for those leaders to demonstrate that professed care and competence with regard to this problem is long overdue.