Latin America’s Nuclei-Extended Families.

In the 1980s, childbirth in the about 20 countries known as Latin America was in its large quantities. Families were closely knit as they still are today and the nuclear family is not very far from it’s extended roots. Most of South America therefore had more than 20% of their population between the ages of 10 and 24. The region was energetic, the cities knit and the classical government, relatively social.

Young in the world: changing proportions in 1980, 2015, 2050

On the turn of the 21st century, capitalism began to take its root in South America at the same time as government became more effective at providing amenities like health facilities, insurance and emergency services. It may look like common sense demands that as the society became more prosperous, population growth would increase and Latinos would have more children; but that is not the case.

In a culture where being sexy is a norm, parties happen everyday, and the coital relationships between men and women don’t typically have an influence on forming a family (as opposed to most of Africa); it made sense that among the gregarious people of South America; sexual intercourse is in pursuit of further freedom to mingle rather than forming long-term relationships as in families. Unfortunately however, this also means that South America has lots of family problems resulting from Divorce, Single Parenthood, Teenage Pregnancy, and the overall consequences of an unwanted pregnancy.

A Statistical Paradox

It seems that as the general life expectancy in Latin America increases, so does the number of teenage pregnancy and related domestic problems.

Everywhere else in the world, a reduction in overall fertility typically correlates with  reduction in Teenage Pregnancy; but in South America, this is not the case. UNICEF expresses some reasons why this is disturbing. One is that the presence of better socio-economic opportunities in terms of education and urbanization seems to have no effect on teenage fertility. In the same vein, although contraceptives have reduced general fertility, they seem to have promoted teenage pregnancy by reducing the age of the first sexual intercourse.

Read more about Latin America’s Urbanization

According to the World Bank, Ecuador’s teenage pregnancy rate stands at a level much higher than expected. More worrisome though is that high adolescent fertility is persistent over time despite important improvements in access to education, health, and other socio-economic indicators. This is particularly striking as the general fertility rate in Ecuador has been decreasing (3.2 births per woman in 1990 to 2.2 in 2010).
La Vida es Una

The ‘living in the moment’, ‘whatdoesit-matterism’ system of thinking is largely responsible for teenage sexual decisions in Latin America. Most of them report a general lack of complete information about the consequences of getting pregnant as a teenager- not being able to complete education or lacking economic opportunities as well as the psychological effect it could have on them. Some complain that information at school either focuses on the science of sexual intercourse or is incomplete.

While I was facilitating a discussion on Adolescent Pregnancy in a room of Ecuadorian teenagers, every one of them expressed some knowledge of contraceptives while none of them mentioned abstinence as a way of pregnancy prevention. This half-baked body of knowledge make many teenagers think that the availability of contraceptive options is permission to be promiscuous.

Read more about Latin Ameica’s Concept of Time

‘In my case, I think it was “whatdoesit-matterism” (quemimportismo), I think it was more that. I don’t think it was ignorance (…). I think it was that. Was this “whatdoesitmatterism” the reason why you were not giving much importance or why? I did not care if I would get pregnant or not at that point.”’
-Ecuadorian 16 years old mother
Captain of my Ship

In my short time of interacting with Latino teenagers, I realize that they have an underlying thought that life just happens. They believe that the things that happen to them are as a result of some external factors other than their own day-to-day decision. Thus many of them don’t really have concrete goals or life projects that keep should have been a driving force to maintaining focus.

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Way Forward?

Largely based on my experience and opinion, I believe the following are steps in the right direction to combating this menace in the world’s most vibrant continent:

  1. Life Project: Since for many Latino teenagers, pregnancy is a way of giving meaning to life, becoming adults and dropping our of school; parents should guide their children through the formulation and accomplishment of a self-designed life project with SMART Goals, reasonable Time-lines and a day-to-day Action Plan.
  2. Captain of my Ship: the understanding of good decision-making and decision consequences should be fostered in the school and at home.
  3. End Result: teenagers need to understand the benefit of a well-paced, educated and profitable teenage life well equipped for their future lives ahead.
  4. Robust Knowledge-Base: information about the prevention of pregnancy should include not only all options (especially abstinence), but also the consequences and risks associated with each of the options.
  5. The Nuclear Family: the benefits of raising children in settled homes need to be re-emphasized in Latin America.
  6. Re-thinking Education: Some students get pregnant because it’s the only way to stop attending school. Education is compulsory in most South American countries and there’s huge investments in it, but the future relevance of schooling and the quality of curriculum needs to be more established.

Latin America needs to take immediate action to reduce the impact of the looming effects of teenage pregnancy on her prosperity.

Teenage childbearing has progressively become a major policy concern, as different studies have established a significant correlation between early motherhood, lower educational achievement, and poorer labor market outcomes for women.
-The World Bank

*Feature Image by Christian Rodriguez as seen on the guardian

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