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Teenage pregnancy and early marriage

Overview

With 19% of girls married before 18 and 24% already with a child by the time they turn 20, the Secretariat of State for Youth and Sports, UNFPA and Plan International decided to investigate the decision-making pathways and experiences that lead to teenage pregnancy and early marriage in Timor-Leste.

The objective of the research was to investigate the root causes of pregnancies in adolescence and early marriages, as well as to collect information on possible ways to prevent them. 

The research clearly shows that teenage pregnancies and early marriage have consequences for many aspects of young people’s lives—their health, education employment opportunities and overall general well-being. Given its complexity, many sectors and actors have a role to play in preventing it: the health and education sectors, parents and communities at large, gender advocates and policy makers, and young people themselves.

 

Executive Summary

Teenage pregnancy and early marriage

Main findings: 

  • Social Context:  In the majority of cases, young women fell pregnant first and then proceeded to get married. the causes of early marriages were found to be (in order of importance): (1) pregnancy; (2) arranged marriages; (3) marriages pushed by parents because young people were in a relationship; and (4) because young women wanted to, mainly to escape a dire situation at home. For young people, many of the issues they raised revolved around the difficulties in navigating sexual decision-making in a community context that does not allow them to speak of it openly, does not give them useful advice on how to make the right decisions or empower them to face difficult challenges.
  • Sexual education for young people: The report finds that young women and men alike know very little about their own bodies but nearly all had heard of sex. They just didn’t know what would put them at risk of pregnancy, HIV or STIs, how their reproductive system worked or what were signs of pregnancy.
  • Contraception: Contraception is clearly out of unmarried young people’s reach. For young married women, it is also rarely used: they are under pressure to produce more children quickly and believe in numerous negative consequences for their health if they use contraception. Condoms are clearly seen as a license to immoral sexual activity. As a result, many more teenage pregnancies happen after marriage, this time without any community effort to prevent it, and with considerable pressure placed on the young woman to continue getting pregnant.
  • Power and control: The lack of power or control young women have in exercising sexual decision-making proved to be the main cause of teenage pregnancy: with or without sexual education or contraception, the fact is that young women have very little agency in the decision to engage in sexual relationships. 

The research clearly shows that teenage pregnancies and early marriage have consequences for many aspects of young people’s lives—their health, education employment opportunities and overall general well-being. Given its complexity, many sectors and actors have a role to play in preventing it: the health and education sectors, parents and communities at large, gender advocates and policy makers, and young people themselves.