Venezuela leads South American in teen pregnancies

By Hector Pereira

Caracas, Jul 19 (EFE).- With the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in South America and an “enormous” scarcity of contraceptives, in Venezuela low-income minors are especially vulnerable upon starting sexual activity, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in the country, Jorge Gonzalez Caro.

In an interview with EFE, Gonzalez said that, other than these two challenges, there are additional gaps affecting Venezuelan women including pay disparity and an increase in gender-based violence, which he called the country’s “big issues,” at least from the point of view of the organization he represents.

In addition, he called attention to the scarcity of free contraceptive supplies at Venezuelan health centers, a reality that, he said, affects most of the country’s people living in poverty and runs counter to the constitutional mandate to provide “comprehensive family planning services.”

Regarding the report on the status of the world’s population, released this month by the United Nations, he emphasized that Venezuela enjoys a “very good” growth rate, as well as a “demographic bonus,” given that almost 70 percent of its citizens are of working age.

“Teenage pregnancy, we say, is the main sexual and reproductive health problem in Venezuela,” said Gonzalez, noting that with 96 cases per 1,000 females aged 15-19, the country has double the average rate for Latin America.

The good news, he said, is the implementation of a plan whereby the UNFPA managed to reduce teen pregnancy by 87 percent in one town in the eastern state of Anzoategui and which is now being implemented as public policy in the 11 municipalities registering the greatest incidence of the problem.

On the other hand, the mathematician said, an “enormous” gap “of more than 90 percent” persists between the demand and supply of free contraceptives despite the government’s efforts to acquire supplies of this kind in recent years through bilateral agreements with various countries.

Thus, while private pharmacies are able to provide contraceptives – with a box of three condoms costing the same as a week’s minimum salary – the state has not been buying these supplies to any great extent for the past six years and, as a result, the bulk of the population living in extreme poverty are on their own.

Although Venezuela “has a very good situation in terms of gender parity,” such as full school attendance for females and many women in positions of political power, the incidence of female empowerment is weak in other areas.

“Women tend to earn less than men for the same work … There are people who talk about a difference of nearly 20 percent, but it’s not something on which studies have been conducted,” he said.

In addition, women are in school, “even more than men,” but in public and private management positions “they are still not reaching those leadership posts.”

Also, the economic crisis Venezuela has been enduring in recent years continues to have a different impact on women, who emigrate more than men do, and, if they remain in the country, the great majority of whom are consigned to caring for children or the elderly and are being left behind economically.

“Violence against women … is one of Venezuela’s big problems,” warned Gonzalez, adding that – although he cited figures from the non-governmental organization Utopix – the country suffers one femicide every 36 hours.

Along the same lines, the major focus of the humanitarian response being offered by the UNFPA is to mitigate and, in the best of cases, eradicate the cases of – and risks of – sexual exploitation and abuse, especially among women traveling near the country’s borders.

Women who are migrating to countries like Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago “have enormous vulnerability to being taken in by people trafficking groups” and this risk is known to them and is their greatest fear in crossing an international border, according to a qualitative study by the UNFPA.

On top of that, there is official silence about indicators on other forms of violence against women, and these do not show, for example, that the rate of maternal mortality – which in 2017 stood at 125 per 100,000 live births – has continued to increase or, at best, has remained level, putting Venezuela among the top three Latin American nations for that dire statistic.

EFE hp/sb/cpy/bp

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