“It was the talk of my community,” says Slilma*, 16, who lives in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) of Nicaragua, where teenage pregnancy is all too common.
“I had just turned 14 when I fell pregnant… I’d been going out with my boyfriend for a year. He was 18. I knew vaguely how to protect myself, but he didn’t like using condoms… I took a test, which confirmed I was pregnant. When I told my boyfriend, he disappeared. I never saw him again.”
The teenager stayed in school until she gave birth, but afterwards she had to leave to look after her baby.
High level of sexual violence
Nicaragua has the highest teenage pregnancy rate** in Latin America, with 28% of women giving birth before the age of 18, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Sexual violence towards girls is a major contributing factor. According to Nicaragua’s Institute of Legal Medicine, 6,069 cases of sexual violence** were reported in 2013. A staggering 88% of these were young girls, mostly teenagers.
“Girls who become pregnant before they are 18 lose their childhood. They are rarely able to exercise their rights to education, health, protection and an adequate quality of life,” says our Country Director for Nicaragua, Matthew Carlson.
Sixteen-year-old Jennifer* sought safety at a shelter supported by Plan International Nicaragua after she gave birth. The shelter provides healthcare, food and psychological support to those looking to flee violence.
Any efforts to address issues such as teenage pregnancy must involve young people.
“During my journey to school, I met an older man. He was 29 and I was 14,” says Jennifer. “He kept asking me to go out with him. Eventually, I said yes. Soon after, he asked me to have sex with him. I was unsure, but he emotionally harassed me until I gave in. I didn’t know how to protect myself and I became pregnant.”
Jennifer kept her pregnancy a secret for six months, until her mother found out. “My mother was so angry, she beat me and threw me out of the house,” says Jennifer. “Throughout my whole pregnancy, I suffered violence at the hands of my mother… I only saw the father of my child twice – but on both occasions he was aggressive.”
Jennifer reported her situation to the police, who took her and her son to live in the shelter.
“It was such a relief when I arrived. They helped me take care of my baby and I felt thankful to have so much support around me. They provided shelter and medical attention. I received food for me and my baby, as well as emotional support.”
Involving young people in the discussion
Our Girl Power Project has worked in RACCN since 2012, educating young people about sexual health and how to protect themselves. Every week, with the support of local community workers, teenagers get to together to have frank, open discussions about the risk of teenage pregnancy in their community.
According to Matthew Carlson, “Any efforts to address issues such as teenage pregnancy must involve young people. This can be achieved by educating and engaging with them.”
Slilma is now back in school and determined to help others.
“I want to give advice to teenagers and educate them about early pregnancy. Young people shouldn’t do what I did, as being a teenage mother has had a major impact on my life. Now, girls and boys come and talk to me about issues they are facing. I was lucky to have received so much support. I am eager to use my experience positively and help others in my community.”
* Names have been changed for child protection.
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