A group of teenagers observe a doll during a workshop on preventing teenage pregnancy at a school in Monterrey, Nuevo León Gabriela Pérez (Cuartoscuro)
Every day 1,000 Mexican teenagers become pregnant. They are more than 350,000 a year. About 9,000 of these occur in girls under the age of 14. Preventing early pregnancy has become one of the major demographic challenges in the country, which launched the National Strategy on Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy (ENAPEA) in 2015 with clear goals for 2030: eradicate child pregnancy and reduce the rate by half in girls aged 15 and 19. A challenge that seems unattainable according to figures and progress presented in a report by the Colegio de México on Tuesday. Mexico stagnates as one of the countries in the world with the highest numbers of these pregnancies. Poverty and lack of access to health services are identified as the main causes.
Laura Flamand, a researcher at the Colegio de México and one of the authors of the report Early Pregnancy in Mexico: Overview of Public Strategies and ENAPEA Analysis, asked the public to remember what they were like when they were 13: what they were were playing, what sports they liked, what three words would describe how they felt at the time. Would it still be like that if they became mothers at that age? According to the United Nations Population Fund, early pregnancy is associated with physical risks for young people, fewer educational opportunities, more precarious employment and wages, greater dependency and greater exposure to gender-based violence.
Faced with these consequences, the Mexican government has made preventing teenage pregnancy a “priority,” said Gabriela Rodríguez, secretary of the Conapo (National Population Council). “Nobody should be caring for children in their second decade. Why? Because it is a barrier to women’s growth and social mobility,” the official said while presenting the document.
The Colegio de México report shows that expectant mothers were three times less likely to graduate from college than those who were able to postpone motherhood. Similarly, 75% of 20-year-old Mexican women without children work or study; On the other hand, when young women of the same age have children in their care, only 40% study or have a paid job. “We are also losing wealth as a country”, stressed Flamand, stressing the importance of making visible “this public problem, which has very serious individual, but also social and intergenerational consequences”.
Mexico, the country with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the OECD
Mexico is the OECD country with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world, surpassed only by the countries of Central America and sub-Saharan Africa. The fertility rate among adolescents is 68 per 1,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 19, according to Conapo. The numbers also vary within the country: Chiapas at 85 is not the same as Mexico City at 48. But in any case, Minister Rodríguez concedes, “it’s a high rate”: “We want Germany’s rate, which is three is per 1,000 adolescents. Regionally, Europe has the lowest rate with 11.6 young people, followed by North America (15.8) and for Latin America and the Caribbean the situation rises to 60.8. “This rate is a very clear indicator of a country’s poverty,” said the Conapo secretary.
The Colegio de México report highlights that this problem does not affect all Mexicans equally. “There is a close and complex relationship between this pregnancy and gender inequality and violence,” Flamand explained. It is 5.1 times more common in poor women, 1.6 times more common in Indigenous girls, and 1.7 times more common in rural than urban areas. “The government guarantees the exercise of sexual rights unequally between groups and between territories,” added researcher Vanesa Arvizu, who also pointed out that access to contraception has stagnated since 2000.
Specific fertility rate among women aged 15 to 19 years according to the States in Mexico (2019), Colegio de México
There has been progress in recent decades: 50 years ago, the fertility rate among adolescents in Mexico was twice what it is today, but in the last 10 years the curve has practically frozen. In other words, from 2010 to 2021, the government’s strategy has hardly borne fruit. This plan has only 88 million pesos a year – less than $4.5 million – for the 32 companies that are required to implement it. In a conversation with EL PAÍS, the authors of the report define ENAPEA as a well-constructed and well-thought-out public policy that, however, lacks coordination between the three levels of government that must apply it, deep staff turnover and bureaucratization, as well as a lack of resources and materials and better training for those responsible.
In addition, the closure of schools, the fear of Covid-19 and the increase in violence against children have been some of the obstacles the strategy has had to face in recent years. There are no exact numbers yet, but government estimates suggest that just over 29,000 extra pregnancies occurred between 2020 and 2021 during the health emergency than was projected among adolescents. Researcher and author of the report Juan Olmeda concludes: “Reaching the 2030 targets is practically impossible. And with the effects that the pandemic has had, even less.”
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