Welcoming a new baby to the family is a joyous occasion. However, for teenage girls who are experiencing dramatic physical and mental development, unintended pregnancy not only is harmful to their health but also hinders their chance for a bright future. According to the World Health Organization, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year-old girls worldwide.
In an indigenous village in Ecuador, teenage pregnancy affects 15% of girls and those who fall pregnant are typically forced to leave school to look after their babies.
Lack of sex education is one of the major factors contributing to teenage pregnancy.
Plan International Ecuador states that many parents in the local community find it difficult to talk to their teenage children about their sexual and reproductive rights. This can leave young people, many of whom receive poor or no sex education at school, with insufficient knowledge to make informed and responsible decisions about whether or not to engage in sexual activity.
No so in Francisco’s family. He and his daughter Gladys, 17, are both participating in Plan International’s programme in preventing teenage pregnancy.
Francisco and Gladys join forces to tackle the issue of teen pregnancy.
“I tell her please don’t have children or get married yet,” says Francisco. “Stay single. Study. Protect yourself. You’re young. Make yourself a future first. It’ll be a really hard life for you if you do.”
In recent months, Francisco has been receiving training from Plan International Ecuador to become a community health volunteer so that one day he will be able to provide life-saving care to young mothers and their babies.
Francisco is learning to spot the warning signs in teenage girls’ pregnancies.
Gladys, meanwhile, is committed to ensuring she stays child-free for the time being. She is one of 325 adolescents taking part in a fortnightly club where she learns about sexual and reproductive health and rights, how to prevent teen pregnancy, sexual abuse and sexually transmitted infections. Together with her friends, she frequently visits the local health centre to pick up the free contraception dispensed there to make sure they do not get pregnant.
She is clear why this is important to them. “We need to study and finish school so that we can go to university and have professional careers,” she says. “Many women don’t study and just get married and then their husbands abuse them.”
Gladys wants to pursue her dream and makes sure to stay child-free for the time being.
This is not the future she envisions for herself. She would like to have a family one day – but not until she is achieved her dream of becoming a doctor.