Social Issues

Teenage pregnancy leaves low-income Peruvian girls stuck in cycle of poverty

By Paula Bayarte

Lima, Mar 8 (EFE).- Even as some indicators provide evidence of economic progress in Peru, others show the country’s persistent social injustices.

One example of the latter is the number of cases of teenage pregnancy in the Andean nation, which grew 22 percent in 2021 and are a reality that serves to leave low-income Peruvian girls trapped in difficult economic conditions.

“Girls with fewer resources are five times more likely to get pregnant, and becoming mothers exacerbates the situation (and causes them to enter) a vicious cycle of poverty,” Hugo Gonzalez, the representative in Peru of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told Efe.

At least 1,436 Peruvian girls 15 and under were mothers in 2021, up from 1,177 in 2020. That increase has sparked concern among experts, who warn of the serious consequences these adolescent pregnancies entail.

Seven of every 10 girls who are forced to become mothers leave school, according to UNFPA figures. When that happens, their low level of educational attainment drastically limits their economic opportunities and pushes them into jobs in Peru’s large informal economy.

“Pregnancy before age 15 is becoming more frequent because the age in which young people are starting to have sexual relations is falling, which creates more risk,” Gonzalez said.

UNFPA figures indicate that half of all girls did not use any type of contraception in their first sexual encounter, a figure that reveals the lack of sexual awareness and prejudice against condoms that persists in Peru.

“Comprehensive sexual education with a secular and scientific focus gives girls personal tools for empowerment, autonomy for risk prevention and for seeking out help,” Elga Prado, head of the feminist organization Manuela Ramos’ Sexuality and Physical Autonomy program, told Efe.

Experts agree that a well-executed curriculum that addresses sexuality can be a determining factor in helping reduce teenage pregnancy, particularly in contexts where sex is taboo and schools become the only source of knowledge about this subject for girls.

“We’re seeing the state give little priority to implementing these preventive policies,” said Prado, who added that some progress made in this area has been rolled back due to “a very strong fundamentalist, anti-rights current.”

Prado said that not only are most teenage girls generally unable to safely terminate their pregnancies in Peru, where abortion is illegal except in the case of a threat to the life or health of the woman, they also are offered no type of psychological support.

Gonzalez said for his part that effectively combating teenage pregnancy will require a justice system that properly investigates allegations of sexual violence and judges who send the message that the crime of rape will not go unpunished.

The situation is complicated by the fact that under a 2018 law marriage is permitted for girls as young as 14, which the UNFPA says contributes to a rise in teenage pregnancy and effectively “means legalizing the transformation of a rapist into a husband.”

Girls who become pregnant also often are the victims of men close to them, including uncles, friends or step-fathers, which hinders their ability to seek justice.

“Girls who have become pregnant are demonized (by those around them). The blame is placed on them,” Prado said, adding that the aggressor often is shielded by other members of his domestic or social circle.

In that sense, teenage pregnancy can lead not only to girls’ suffering psychological and physical harm and a lack of future opportunities, but also to their being scorned and vilified by those closest to them. EFE


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