TODAY COLOMBIA NEWS — Almost 20,000 Colombian girls under the age of 14 became pregnant between 2011 and 2013, according to officials statistics reported by local media. 

Colombia’s National Department of Statistics (DANE) estimates that more than 6,000 thousands girls between the ages of 10 and 14 gave birth in 2013 alone.

Recent figures from 2013/14 suggest that Colombia has been overtaken by Guatemala as the country with the highest level of teen pregnancies in Latin America.

With these statistics in mind, the family welfare institute ICBF recently organized a teenage pregnancy awareness week with events aimed at raising awareness about the problem. Workshops and conventions in a number of schools and community centers around the country were held to promote safe sex and the use of contraception.

There are, however, some more controversial measures being proposed. ICBF’s director Cristina Plazas has suggested that the males who impregnate these young girls should be prosecuted, a proposal facing criticism from some NGOs.

There is in fact a law on the books that assigns a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for anyone who has sexual relations with a person under 14. But one investigator told the website Las2Orillas that criminal action will not help.

“The problem is of education, not a punitive one,” the unnamed researcher said.

Teen pregnancy leads to poverty

The Colombian states with highest percentage of teen pregnancy are Amazonas, Putumayo, Vichada, La Guajira, Chocó, Nariño, Cauca and Cesar.

These are some of the poorest areas of Colombia, and contain high levels of indigenous communities.

Teen pregnancy has been highlighted as one of the contributors to the high levels of poverty in Colombia.

Young women are often left with a child which they struggle to support financially. They are forced to leave education often without qualifications due to lack of child-care options available, and thus struggle to enter the job market.

Limited options

It is estimated that 90 out of every 1,000 Colombian girls aged 15 to 19 become pregnant every year, and – with legal abortions legal only in cases where the mother or baby is at risk — most of these girls find themselves responsible for a child.

According to NGO Human rights watch there are an estimated 450,000 illegal abortions in Colombia every year, and unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality.

The punishment for a woman who has an illegal abortion is up to three years in prison and the punishment for a doctor or other person who completes the operation illegally (even if medically licensed to perform the procedure) is also up to three years.

Article first appeared on Today Colombia

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