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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
Teenage pregnancy is a term used for pregnancy occurring in females under twenty years of age. The incidence of it varies from around 140 per 1000 in sub-Saharan Africa to 3 per 1000 in South Korea and Japan. United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand have the highest rates of teenage pregnancies among the developed countries. However, the last decades have seen a gradual decline in unwanted teenage pregnancies in developed countries which one can attribute to better education on reproductive health issues, accessibility of effective contraception as well as the availability of abortion on broader grounds.
Being sexually active is reported by a significant number of 16-year-olds. At this age children, usually, don’t reach psychological maturity and are liable to emotional problems due to their psychosocial development not being completed. Although teenage girls are physically able to bear children soon after they had started ovulating, which is usually between the age of 10 and 15, this is by no mean considered to be desirable either from the medical, social or psychological standpoint. Apart from facing the same issues typical of a pregnancy occurring in women over 20, teenage girls also have to confront specific challenges related to their young age. Their bodies are still not fully developed which makes carrying a pregnancy to term extremely difficult. This is why most babies of teenage mothers are born prematurely, with low birth weight. Health risks for a young mother include anemia, pre-eclampsia as well as factors associated with lack of prenatal care. These pregnancies usually get hidden from the immediate family and members of the community for fear of being judged and socially stigmatized. Children are sometimes even delivered in unsanitary conditions without any medical assistance. Postpartum complications are, therefore, not uncommon, including maternal death as well as severe health complications for the newborn infant.
The socio-economic context of teenage pregnancy is dependent on the level of growth of the country it occurs in. In developed countries, teenage pregnancies typically occur out of wedlock, in girls living in underprivileged circumstances, in low-income families, with poorly educated parents. In contrast to that in many developing countries people tend to marry young, as teenagers, and that is when they start families. These pregnancies are planned and welcomed, which makes them socially acceptable, although they carry the same health risks as unwanted teenage pregnancies in developed countries, perhaps even greater ones since prenatal care is usually not readily available.
For a teenage girl, getting pregnant while still in high school often means that her education is interrupted, with a high risk of never being resumed at a later date. Young girls find themselves facing adult responsibilities at an age when they are still not mature enough to assume them. Raising a child is rather expensive, which requires them to start working, and the jobs available to poorly educated and unskilled workers are physically demanding and not well paid. This further damages their chances of continuing their education and getting out of the cycle of poverty they find themselves in. Children brought into these appalling life circumstances also have reduced chances for a decent education and for leading a prosperous life when they grow up. They tend to be malnourished, and prone to illnesses resulting from inappropriate care provided to them by their young mothers. They are mostly brought up by a single parent, denied an opportunity to grow up in a complete family which would be beneficial for their psychological development. While teenage fathers are frequently in a romantic relationship with their child’s mother at the time the child is conceived and even born, they rarely stay committed to family life because it proves to be too stressful or limiting for their social or professional life. Children born to teenage parents frequently suffer from developmental disabilities or have behavioral problems, leading to low academic achievement, substance abuse or problems with the law in their teenage years or early adulthood. Many girls born to teenage mothers later become teenage mothers themselves.
Family influences cannot be highlighted enough when it comes to reproductive behavior. An atmosphere of tolerance and open dialog within a family is crucial for teenage children to develop a strong sense of what is acceptable behavior, morally or otherwise. If she can discuss the issue of sexuality with her parents, a teenage girl will be less inclined to go to friends or acquaintances for advice since they are bound to be just as inexperienced and immature as she is. In the event of an unwanted pregnancy, the family is also the first place to turn to for support and assistance. However, a massive number of parents of pregnant teenagers are unavailable for this kind of support, they are either not present (as is the case with teens living in broken homes) or face serious mental health or addiction problems themselves rendering them unable to be efficient as parents.
Alcohol consumption and experimenting with drugs both influence the occurrence of teenage pregnancy. These substances reduce the control teenagers exert over their behavior, and when coupled with peer pressure, this can lead to unprotected sexual intercourse resulting in pregnancy. Drug or alcohol dependent mothers give birth to children at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, or drug addiction, which are extremely severe, life-threatening conditions. Even if these children survive, they face severe developmental difficulties and sometimes permanent damage to their physical or mental health.
Contracting a sexually transmitted disease is another possible consequence of engaging in unprotected sex. Teenagers are at times reluctant to use contraceptives for a set of reasons: they lack proper education on issues of birth control and protection against infectious diseases transmitted by unprotected intercourse; they are concerned with possible side effects of contraceptive pills or fear being labeled as promiscuous if their use of contraceptives became known.
A significant number of teenage pregnancies results from sexual abuse. In some countries, sexual intercourse with a minor cannot be considered consensual and is therefore legally regarded as rape. The legal age of consent, however, varies in different jurisdictions. Regardless of how intercourse with a teenage girl gets handled legally, a psychologically immature person is not able to comprehend all the implications of consenting to sex and is therefore at risk of being psychologically traumatized. Giving birth to a child while still, a teenage girl can have a long-term consequence of challenging difficulties in finding a suitable marriage partner later in life due to trust issues developed from the feeling of being pressured into engaging in sexual intercourse at a young age.
The key to reducing the incidence of teenage pregnancy lies in more efficient education covering not only the biological aspects of conception and pregnancy. It also lies in strengthening the interpersonal skills of vulnerable youths by teaching them how to express their wishes assertively and how to refuse sexual intercourse if they are not ready or willing to engage in it. Offering an appealing set of values and attitudes for young people to embrace is helpful when teenagers with little adult supervision and parental control are concerned. Furthermore, if an unwanted pregnancy happens, the teenage girl should be provided with an opportunity to discuss her options openly, she should be able to receive care from a non-judgmental person capable of offering advice confidentially.