New report on teen pregnancy and early marriage

10 MAY 2017

New research sheds light on girls’ lived realities and uncovers the root causes leading to teenage pregnancy and early marriage in three municipalities of Timor-Leste, while offering solutions for prevention.

An innovative research based on qualitative interviews with young women reveals that unequal power relations between girls and boys, men and women, lead to high rates of pregnancies in adolescence and early marriages in Timor-Leste.

While in most countries child marriage has been identified as a key factor for teenage pregnancy, in Timor-Leste, where one in five girls are married before 18 and 24% of them are with a child before they turn 20, the research reveals a different dynamic.

Teenage Pregnancy and Early Marriage: Research on the Decision-Making Pathways of young women in the municipalities of Covalima, Aileu and Dili was commissioned by Plan International, UNFPA and the Timorese Secretary of State for Youth and Sports and launched on 10 May 2017. Based on qualitative interviews with 24 young women respondents, the report details the underlying causes of teenage pregnancy and early marriages and provides solutions on how to prevent it.

Power relations at the heart of the problem

The research reveals that access to sexual education is very limited for young people in Timor-Leste and contraception is largely out of unmarried young people’s reach. This leads to young women not knowing how, or not being able to prevent pregnancy.  

Young women in fact have very little agency in the decision to engage in sexual relationships

But most importantly, with or without sexual education or contraception, the report shows that young women in fact have very little agency in the decision to engage in sexual relationships. It was found that in all 24 cases, the boys initiated the sexual relationship and put pressure on the girls to comply.

Because of unequal power relations between them, girls always felt they had to comply with the boys’ needs and desires. This relationship, based on discriminatory gender norms and negative gender stereotypes, was identified in the report as the main cause for teenage pregnancies in those three municipalities of Timor-Leste.

Girls must lead the way towards prevention

“Understanding the root causes of teenage pregnancy and early marriage is the first step in being able to effectively prevent them,” commented Dillyana Ximenes, Deputy Director of Plan International Timor-Leste.

The research shows that solutions for prevention largely lie within communities and their perception of gender norms. A work of sensitization will be required for communities to reflect on how girls and boys should interact with each other.

“Girls themselves will be the best placed to lead on this. Listening to their voices and giving them the opportunity to design and lead their own prevention campaigns and programmes will be the most effective way to address those issues in Timor-Leste.” Ms. Ximenes added.

The research results are an essential tool that will guide Plan International’s programming and advocacy regarding teenage pregnancy and early marriage in Timor-Leste and inform future interventions from other organisations in the country.