Sadly, teenage pregnancy is on the increase in Guyana, but ironically there is hardly any public debate about teaching safe sex to teenagers or the consequences of physical intimacy. Around half of the teens in Guyana are active sexually and many of them have involuntary sex at a young age, which increases the risk of being pregnant and or having sexually transmitted diseases.
Most teenagers will have a sexual encounter at least by age 15, and many would be involved in sexual intercourse during their high school years.
Teens who indulge in unprotected sex are 90 percent likely to get pregnant. Eight out of ten teenage pregnancies in Guyana are unplanned; they are due to mistakes and carry a social stigma in most communities. While birth control can reduce the risk of teenage pregnancies, most teens who use birth control methods like pills or condoms do so inconsistently and sporadically. However, there is no guarantee that birth control could prevent pregnancy. The most effective way to prevent pregnancy among teenagers is abstinence.
Data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) show that in Guyana, there are 90 births per 1000 young women between 15 and 19years old, which is one of the highest fertility rates in the world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the fertility rate among teens of the same age group is 67 births per 1000 young women and the global rate is estimated at 46 births per 1000 young women, which is about half of Guyana’s. The data also reveals that one in every five or 20 percent of pregnancies in Guyana involve a teenager and one in four or 25 percent of teenage mothers will experience another pregnancy within two years of having their first child. During the 1980s, teen fertility rate in Guyana was over 100 births per 1000 young women. From 1980 to 2015, the world has collectively reduced teen pregnancy by about 50 percent, while Guyana had a modest decrease of only 10 percent.
Most teenage pregnancies occur before teens could understand the implication and responsibility of becoming parents at a young age. Most teenage pregnancies have resulted from poverty, lack of education, peer pressure, sexual abuse, and low self-esteem, among others. It is estimated that almost 60 percent of teenage mothers were impoverished at the time they gave birth and less than one third of them would not receive any form of child support, which increases the likelihood of seeking assistance from the government.
Pregnancies among teens have irreparable consequences in terms of their sexual and reproductive health. Many teenage parents do not have the intellectual or emotional maturity needed to provide for another life. Teens with older partners than them are twice as likely to have unwanted sex and even though some teens appear to be physically matured, they are psychologically immature and ill-equipped to fend off the attention from older males.
Pregnancy and parenthood are the main reasons why pregnant teens drop out of school and many will seek minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. But those with family and community support are as likely to graduate as their peers and will get higher paying jobs. However, less than four percent of teenage mothers will pursue a university education.
Addressing teenage pregnancy in Guyana’s highly sexual culture requires a multi-lateral approach by all stakeholders to change the behaviour of teenagers and to deal with the underlying issues such as poverty, gender inequality and education. Society must own up to its responsibility by providing age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education in schools for youths, invest in their education, empower girls to make wiser choices and ensure that they have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services to facilitate their choices. Teens should be equipped with as much knowledge as possible on their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in order to prevent pregnancy. An educated teen can make wise choices.
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