Earlier this year, a 14-year-old rape survivor in Paraguay died during childbirth while doctors performed an emergency cesarean section.

It was a reminder of a stark reality in Paraguay and throughout Latin America — a preponderance of teen pregnancies and their sometimes terrible consequences.

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An estimated 15% of all pregnancies in Latin America occur in girls younger than 20 years old and 2 million children in the region are born to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 each year, according to a new report from the United Nations.

Overall teenage pregnancy rates “dropped slightly” over the past three decades, but pregnancies among adolescents younger than 15 years old are on the rise.

And this alarming trend falls almost entirely on girls who are unable to go to school.

The report notes that teenage girls with only primary education or no education at all are up to four times more likely than girls with secondary or higher education to have children. Similarly, girls from poor households are three to four times more likely to become pregnant than girls in wealthier families.         

Maternal mortality, meanwhile, is one of the main causes of death for girls between 15 and 24 years old in the region. In 2014, approximately 1,900 adolescents died as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth, or after childbirth.

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On a global scale, the risk of maternal death is doubled in mothers younger than 15 years old. Other physical risks and potential consequences of teenage pregnancies include eclampsia, damage to the pelvic floor, and premature delivery.

Some of the reasons behind the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the region are poor sex education and the prevalence of child marriage, according to the report. Similarly, a lack of resources in many communities often means young girls don’t have the right information on how to prevent pregnancies or protect themselves from contracting diseases.

The report also notes that girls who get pregnant are more likely to drop out of school, which has a lasting impact on their economic opportunities and their ability to support themselves and their children. This leads to social pressures for these girls to marry the father of their babies while they are still children themselves.

The girls spotlighted in the report mostly came from poor families and lived on the outskirts of cities or in rural or semi-rural areas. These girls tended to have low levels of education and some had never even attended school. A large proportion of the girls who had been in school and became pregnant had not returned to school after giving birth. In Peru, for example, 77% of girls who became pregnant had dropped out, and in Guatemala the rate jumped to 88%.

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Sexual violence goes hand-in-hand with teen pregnancies, according to the report, and must be similarly combatted. Trauma from sexual violence can deter girls from returning to school after giving birth, for example.

Reducing teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America is also crucial to closing the gender gap in education in the region and increasing women’s ability to support themselves economically, the report notes. 

Global Citizen campaigns to end sexual violence around the world. You can take action on this issue here.


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Teen Pregnancies Remain Stubbornly High in Latin America: Report

By Erica Sánchez  and  Maria Rendo