New York, NY (CFAM) — A UN agency is billing its just-released population report targeting adolescents as a “new perspective on teen pregnancy,” but its solution to the problem is anything but new: sex-ed, contraception, and access to abortion.
“We must protect adolescents’ rights to comprehensive sexuality education and tear down obstacles to information and services,” said Dianne Stewart, a director with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), at a launch event in Washington DC.
The report, “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy,” highlights the problem of teenage pregnancy around the globe. In developing countries, over 7 million girls under the age of 18 give birth each year – 90% within marriages.
UNFPA’s report advocates for a new approach to ending teen pregnancies – one that moves away from the “misguided” approach of changing girls’ behaviors to one that addresses family and societal conditions that promote child marriage. It denounces government failures in recognizing a girl’s “human right” to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights – including abortion.
The report noted that situations are different. In the developing world, most adolescent pregnancies are within marriage, whereas in more developed countries they typically are not. The report focuses primarily on developing countries, where the vast majority of teenage pregnancies occur, and devotes a lengthy section to comprehensive rather than abstinence-based sexuality education, both of which presume a level of autonomy a young girl in a child marriage is not likely to enjoy.
Heather Boonstra, policy advisor with the Guttmacher Institute, was among the panelists advocating for mandatory sex education for girls before they drop out of school. “We have to make sure sex education is happening much earlier –in the primary grades,” she said.
The report cites a study that found early marriage, rather than pregnancy, was the reason most girls in French-speaking African countries dropped out of school.
The UNFPA report identifies education as one of the best ways to sustain childhood and delay pregnancy for vulnerable adolescents girls in developing countries. Pilot programs designed to pay cash incentives to families to keep their daughters in schools have been largely successful in Brazil, Bangladesh, and Mexico. Yet funding to advance these programs has stalled. The bulk of family planning funding that comes from the U.S. and the Gates Foundation is focused on long-acting contraceptives.
Recent data show that giving funds directly to families not only reduces adolescent pregnancy rates, but also increase girls’ education and delay their sexual initiation, whether in or out of marriage. Observers note that funding UNFPA’s efforts to give girls contraceptives does not alleviate their parents’ existing poverty, which is often the driving force for early marriage.
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One expert urged caution around using long acting contraceptives to reduce teenage pregnancy rates. Jill Morrison from Georgetown Law School’s Women in Africa program reminded panelists that when this was done among teens in the U.S., the program did not include a process for removing the implants when girls suffered side effects.
“If we are focused on increasing the autonomy and agency of these young women then we need to be sure these programs are implemented in a way that respects that,” she concluded.
LifeNews Note: Rebecca Oas, Ph.D and Wendy Wright write for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax and is used with permission.