Mexico wants to prevent teenage pregnancy | D+C

When teenagers become mothers, there is a high risk that they will remain poor or become poor. They usually drop out of school, which reduces their chances of getting a job. At the same time, early pregnancies negatively affect girls’ health and personal development.

Research shows that expectant mothers who are under 15 years old are four times more affected by maternal death. They are at greater risk of complications such as anemia, hypertension and premature birth.

Of the member countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), an umbrella organization of 38 predominantly wealthy countries, Mexico has the highest percentage of teens giving birth. The absolute number has been declining since 2007, but women under the age of 20 still account for 15.1% of births in Mexico. Things are declining again in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the National Population Council estimating that the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies has risen by 30%.

Teenage pregnancies occur for a variety of reasons. Child marriages are important. Many girls marry early because of poverty, gender inequality and harmful traditions. Violence and sexual abuse also lead to pregnancies. It is also important that there is only limited access to comprehensive sex education, full reproductive health services and information on contraceptives (including their use).

Regional differences

The prevalence of teen pregnancy in Mexico varies from region to region. The percentage is particularly high in the relatively poor states such as Guerrero and Chiapas. Chiapas, for example, has generations of cultural traditions that stand in the way of family planning. Religious belief opposes contraceptives, and traditional gender norms give men the power to decide whether or not to use them.

It is the job of governments to identify and understand such conventions in order to take countermeasures. In 2018, the Mexican federal government conducted a national inquiry into health and nutrition issues. Not only did the data show that 23% of young people aged 12-19 become sexually active, but also that 15% of men and 33% of women did not use contraception when they first had intercourse. Although a large part of the Mexican population is informed about contraceptives, knowledge about their use varies by population group.

The study also found that 75% of sexually active women aged 15 to 49 use contraceptives, but this share drops to 64% for those who speak an indigenous language. In addition, only 60% of young people aged 15 to 19 used contraceptives.

Government protection of sexual and reproductive rights is not fully developed in Mexico. Disadvantaged population groups are discriminated against. Access to contraceptives and sex education depends on several things, including age, place of residence and socio-economic status. It is especially difficult in poor, isolated and remote communities in the rural areas of Chiapas, Puebla, Tabasco or Michoacán. To make matters worse, access to any kind of healthcare is limited in those places.

National strategy

The federal government is aware of the problems. In 2015, it launched a national strategy to prevent teenage pregnancy. The idea was – and is – to change people’s attitudes by promoting the sexual and reproductive rights of girls, boys and youth in general. The focus is on the self-determination of girls. Girls are told that they have a right to say no and that violence is inappropriate in a relationship. The campaign also targets boys. The aim is to promote a healthy idea of ​​masculinity with a view to reducing violence in relationships and brutal sexual practices.

CONEVAL, the National Council for Social Development Policy Evaluation, conducted research during the Covid-19 pandemic to assess young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services. The council belongs to the federal administration, but is a decentralized entity. The survey revealed serious regional disparities regarding health facilities, everything from buildings to staff and medical supplies.

On a positive note, 80% of young people stated that their schools provide information on sexual and reproductive health. They also said that schools are best placed to disseminate such information. The data showed that 60% reported having access to materials that enable them to understand sexual and reproductive health. About 85% stated that their textbooks contain information on the subject.

Sex education is essential, not only to prevent unintended pregnancies in young people. It also contributes to the fight against violence and sexual abuse. Without relevant knowledge, girls are unable to self-determination and self-care. Education about reproductive health, the menstrual cycle and the use of contraceptives is vital. The better informed children and teens are, the more they are able to denounce sexual abuse and/or report instances of such abuse. In addition, education puts them in a better position to delay sexual contact until they feel ready.

Improving sex education is a global problem. Countries around the world must rise to the challenge.
Latin America – and Mexico in particular – has made undeniable progress in promoting sexual and reproductive health and, more generally, gender equality.

Legalized abortion

According to Article 3 of the Mexican constitution, schools and curricula must be gender-sensitive and provide education about sexuality and reproductive health. In 2021, the Supreme Court decriminalized abortion by declaring that the Constitution prohibits the prohibition of abortion. Nine states have since legalized abortion, and four (Mexico City, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, and Veracruz) now allow voluntary abortion for any reason in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is therefore even more relevant than before to include information about abortion rights in sex education. Young people deserve to know that in some states the law gives them complete control over their own bodies.

Nevertheless, the road to universal guarantee of sexual and reproductive rights in Mexico is still long. Cultural obstacles remain. Some ideological forces want to curtail such rights. For example, a parent initiative launched in 2020 requires schools not to teach students lessons that are inconsistent with the ethical, religious or moral beliefs of their parents or guardians without their prior consent and approval. Controversial topics include diversity, inclusion, gender perspectives and sexual and reproductive education. Should this approach become official policy, it would restrict the rights of children and young people to a non-violent life and healthy sexuality.

The campaign was proposed in five states and initially approved in the education law of the state of Aguascalientes. However, a group of civil society actors, as well as the National System for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, had demanded that the scheme be withdrawn there and not approved by other states. So far, the Supreme Court has not upheld the parents’ initiative to curtail education, and a federal judge has even ordered its suspension.

Pamela Cruz is project coordinator for Comunalia, the alliance of community foundations in Mexico, and strategic advisor to MY World Mexico, a nationwide social enterprise that promotes sustainable development and collaboration.
[email protected]

Mexico wants to prevent teenage pregnancy | D+C

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