By Carla Samon Ros
Iquitos, Peru, Nov 24 (EFE).- “I got scared,” 16-year-old Elita says, recalling the fateful day when an ultrasound confirmed her fears of being pregnant.
Like her, more than 273,000 girls and adolescents have become new mothers over the past five years in Peru, a country where teen pregnancy rates show no signs of abating, especially in the most remote Amazonian hamlets.
Elita, who has quickly become an expert at breastfeeding her five-month-old baby, used to walk more than an hour to school less than a year ago but she no longer studies and now pushes her son along that same route in a stroller.
“I know I’m very young,” she told Efe, adding that “everything would be different” if she and her 21-year-old boyfriend had used contraception and been provided with sexual education at home or at school.
Now living with her parents in a low-income community located 15 minutes by boat from Iquitos, the capital of the far-northern Peruvian region of Loreto and a city surrounded by the Amazon, Itaya and Nanay rivers that is not accessible by road, Elita says she still remains optimistic about her future.
In that remote part of Peru, teen pregnancies – which are commonly the result of sexual violence – are frequently the cause of early marriages and civil unions, a reality that now affects more than 56,000 adolescents in that Andean nation.
“Teen pregnancy figures are a painful reality in Peru. We have a new adolescent mother every 10 minutes … and in the (Amazon) rainforest this percentage is especially high,” Women and Vulnerable Populations Minister Claudia Davila, a native of Loreto, told Efe.
In 2021, nearly 9 percent of girls and young women in Peru between the ages of 15 and 19 reported having been pregnant at least once.
Although that figure is down slightly from 2007 (12.2 percent), it remains very high in Amazon areas (14.6 percent) and among the poorest socioeconomic groups (16.5 percent).
Meanwhile, cases of sexual violence against girls under the age of 15 rose nearly 30 percent nationwide over the past two years.
In Elita’s home district of Belen, which has a population of 64,000 and is known as the Venice of the Amazon because many people reside in floating huts or houses on stilts and use canoes as transportation, nearly 27 percent of the population are under the poverty line and only 38.4 percent of women have completed their secondary studies.
In one Belen hamlet known as Cabo Lopez, the United Nations Population Fund recently carried out a pilot project in partnership with Asociacion Kallpa, a human development organization, that is aimed at reducing early marriages and maternity.
Known as “Transformando miradas, sembrando oportunidades” (Transforming Perspectives, Sowing Opportunities), that initiative with financial backing from the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation has benefited more than 100 families since its inception a year ago.
It promotes models of positive parenting and non-violent relationships with a view to eradicating harmful practices grounded in male chauvinism and tradition, coordinator Faviola Mares Quispe told Efe.
The project has established two community committees in Cabo Lopez, as well as safe spaces where more than 200 girls and teenagers have taken part in workshops offering “soft” skills such communication and leadership and attended sexual education talks.
One participant in the project was Dalila, a 15-year-old who said that information was not provided to her at home or school and that thanks to the initiative she was able to help a friend who was a victim of violence at the hands of her parents.
Over the past three months in Cabo Lopez, eight cases of violence have been identified thanks to the “Transformando miradas, sembrando oportunidades” program, through which some female adolescents have become aware of sexual and reproductive rights and different methods of contraception for the first time. EFE