One of the situations that was the most striking for me in Riberalta was to see girls with babies in their arms. Many times, I thought they were girls taking care of their little brothers and sisters, but when I saw them breastfeeding, I understood they were their children.
Teen pregnancy rate in Bolivia is high. According to the most recent studies, 18% of teenagers (15 to 19 years old) in the country are pregnant or already mothers. That is a rate of 88 young women giving birth per thousand women.
However, in the department of Beni there is another worrisome reality that is related to early adolescent pregnancy, that is, girls between 11 and 14 who become mothers.
Why does this happen? Do they have access to contraceptive methods? Is it a cultural problem? What are the risks for these girls who become mothers?
One of my jobs in Sustainable Bolivia was to try to answer all these questions. That was how I met Dr. María Dolores Aguirre, an obstetric gynaecologist at the Maternal and Child Hospital in “Reidum Roine” in Riberalta.
Most of the girls with early pregnancies arrive at the hospital with almost full-term pregnancies, about 7 to 8 months, accompanied by a family member and saying they don’t know they are pregnant.
They have not been controlled for the entire gestation process, which can be a huge risk for both the mother and the baby.
Among the complications that the doctor enumerated, there is pre-eclampsia and / or severe anemia, malnutrition for the mother and the baby, in addition to having a premature delivery. Many also do not really know how to breastfeed and end up with malnourished babies.
According to the context of Riberalta, the doctor ruled out the hypothesis of a cultural problem, because the early pregnancy issue is a relatively new problem that appeared about 15 years ago.
The problem is mainly due to an economic factor that has to do with Riberalta’s family system. “Most of the mothers go to work early, usually in brazilian nut industries and leave older sisters in charge of the youngest. Then they feel like adults, able to get responsibilities and therefore able to take care of their own child.” In addition, many of them leave school at early age to work at home or help their families.
In Bolivia, there are basic services, places where all contraceptives methods are free. From condoms to pills, implants, injections and implants such as copper IUD. The only procedure that is required is to take out insurance.
Minors need the authorization of an adult, which does not have to be their parents, but a family member or even cousins. In the same medical office, these young women can receive help and advice from a psychologist.
“The lack of information is a serious problem in our community. Many women do not know that they have free access this method” said the doctor.
As part of the work I also went to the Amazon radio to deliver this information to the community. The media are a powerful source if they are used correctly to guide the audience on such important issues as early teen pregnancy.
Fernanda Carrera Pérez