By Christian Rodriguez
Latin America is the only region in the world where teenage pregnancies increase, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in a report published on October 30, 2013. This is due to poverty, gender inequality, discrimination, lack of access to services, and the social notion about girls and women.
The series of portraits was made in Complexo do Alemão, a neighborhood formed by more than 13 favelas in the north part of Rio de Janeiro city, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil. This region has always been known as the most violent city (or: place in this country). This documentation was made with IBISS NGO, which has a program called “Meninas Maes” (Girl Mothers) that gives support to teenage mothers, and developed a prevention program aimed to educate girls and teenagers from this area. Brazil holds a rate of 89 teenage pregnancies out of 1000 inhabitants, when the world average is 40 out of 100 inhabitants. But this rate increases notoriously in Rio ́s favelas, between the ages of 14 and 19.
This is a project that documents the social contexts in which the rate increases dramatically. In Complexo do Alemão a group of favelas in the north part of Rio de Janeiro, where the rate of teenage pregnancies increases extremely. The report uses Brazil as an example, saying it could have a bigger productivity, the equivalent of $3.5 million USD, if the teenage girls from this country would wait until their twenties to become pregnant.
According to Marcela Suazo, director of the UNFPA in Latin America and the Caribbean: “Since they don ́t have any other way to own a space in their social context, the possibility of becoming a mother offers them a sort of opportunity”. In other words, being a mother in the lowest social contexts is associated to a search for changing their social status, like being more reputable or valued in their community, therefore becoming a mom offers them stability or a life plan, a project that allows them to have something of their own. However, there are few successful stories because their partners left them to be single mothers, repeating the behavioral pattern of their parents. “There are much less possibilities of having a teenage pregnancy if the girls are schooled”, points out Suazo.
Another fundamental factor is the high mortality rate of mothers, when moms younger than 16 suffer four times more risk of dying than a pregnant woman older than 20, without forgetting all the health issues that a pregnancy might bring to the mother. “The health issues are more probable if the girl becomes pregnant within two years after the menarche (a woman ́s first period) or when her pelvis and birth canal are still developing”, as said in the ONU ́s report “Maternity during childhood, confronting the challenges of teenage pregnancy”.
Almost 50% of young teenage mothers weren ́t able to practice their right to avoid a pregnancy, or to refuse to have sexual relationships. “If we aren ́t able to change the social context of how we approach the actions, not only towards girls, but also towards boys, the educational sector, and politics in order to reduce discrimination, and ensure ourselves that society as a whole worries and takes responsibility for teenage pregnancy, we won ́t be able to change the situation”, as Suazo emphasized.