Lack of rights
Nicaragua has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America, with 28 per cent of women giving birth before the age of 18, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Sexual violence on girls is one of the major contributing factors of the high rate of teenage pregnancies in the country. According to Nicaragua’s Institute of Legal Medicine, 6,069 cases of sexual violence were reported in 2013. A staggering 88 per cent of these were young girls, mostly teenagers.
“Girls who become pregnant before they are 18 lose their childhood and have to take on adult obligations, often without being able to enjoy the benefits of adulthood. They are rarely able to exercise their rights to education, health, protection and an adequate quality of life,” says Country Director of Plan International Nicaragua, Matthew Carlson.
In NCCAR, teenage pregnancy and sexual violence are widespread.
Jennifer, 16, stands outside the shelter for girls supported by Plan International Nicaragua, where she sought safety after she gave birth. The shelter provides a safe place to stay for those fleeing violence, along with healthcare, food and psychological support.
“During my journey to school, I met an older man. He was 29 and I was 14,” she says. “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. He was older, he was supposed to know how to use protection.”
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. I only saw the father of my child twice – but on both occasions he was aggressive.”
Teenagers such as Jennifer, rejected by their family, are often forced to seek refuge elsewhere. According to Carmen Poveda, Special Police Commissioner for NCCAR:
“Pregnant girls as young as 12 or 13 now come to the police station. They are distressed and we have to take them to the local shelter, where they can give birth. Together with Plan International Nicaragua, we have been working with girls, informing them about their rights so they can share this message with others in the community.”
Spreading the word
Our Girl Power Project has worked in NCCAR since 2012, educating young people about sexual health and how to protect themselves. Every week, with the support of local community workers, teenagers have frank, open discussions about the issue of teenage pregnancy.
Karen, 14, is part of the local youth group, along with her friends:
“We need more education on sexual health and we want our parents to feel comfortable talking to us about it,” says Karen. “We don’t want to feel ashamed.”
As for Slilma, she’s 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.”