Costa Rica News – I remember sitting up in the mountains of Escazu waiting for the bus to arrive to take me to my job in San Jose. Each day a young girl, I would guess about 13 or 14, would pass in her school uniform her pregnant belly protruding more each day. All I could think to myself was “what kind of life is this young girl going to be able to provide that child when she cannot even provide for herself .”
This thought does not seem to go threw the minds of thousands of teenage girls that have children each and very year in Costa Rica. Through a recent survey Costa Rica only ranks only above sub-Saharan Africa for teen pregnancy. Obviously there is a problem, now how is it being addressed?
Since 1980, teenage pregnancies in the Latin America region have been on the rise. Among the top countries that show an alarming uptrend is Costa Rica. In a day, there are about 35 teenage girls who turn up positive in their pregnancy tests; a number relatively higher than reports in the US. While parents blame it on the lack of safe sex education in schools and their local communities, the government emphasizes that family culture is the primary contributing factor to a child’s overall welfare and awareness to its environment. But according to a study conducted by Universidad Nacional in 2006, alcohol, drugs, and peer pressure constitute to more than 80% of the reasons why a teenager decides to have sex at a young age.
A pregnant teenager may face social discrimination and feel shameful. Her family, on the other hand, can be faced with tremendous emotional and physical burden, especially after childbirth. Mostly, a pregnant teenager is unemployed, under-educated, and single, leaving her family no choice but to financially support her throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. As a result, the quality of life that a teenage mother can provide her child is far lower than an educated and employed mother can.
Although this is the case for decades, Costa Rica has not given up on this fight. In fact, there are three highly-proactive organizations that help combat the issue. One of them is Score International’s HOPE Center. It is one of the many community centers in Costa Rica that educate women on safe sex, unplanned pregnancies, childbirth, newborn care, and child rearing. This non-profit organization also encourages women to stay in school and get a job prior to having children. Another organization that helps teenagers stay in school is the Ministerio de Educacion Publica (MEP). MEP gives teenagers financial assistance and specialized curriculum so they can attend school despite pregnancy. Their staff also coordinates with schools to accommodate scheduled medical checkups, especially when their due date is nearing. The third organization to help Costa Rica is the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). US-based PPFA collaborated with Colectiva Por el Derecho a Decidir (CPDD), a feminist organization, and has since launched several campaigns to educate women on reproductive health, sexual rights, and family planning. Massive outreach programs have taken place in the cities of San Jose and Alajuelita, to as far as Venado Island, to promote the use of birth control, and to educate women on sexually-transmitted diseases, physical and psychological effects of abortion, maternal deaths and disability, and responsible parenthood. The PPFA has also put up clinics in San Jose to provide medical support and therapy such as Pap smear, periodic pregnancy checkups, and Yoga, while clinics in Alajuelita also offer community education on domestic violence, couple counseling, and contraceptives.
In the hopes to lessen the huge number, a yearly average of 14,000 childbirths by teenage mothers, the Costa Rican Health Ministry, together with the UN Population Fund (UNPF), recently launched a public awareness campaign in July 2013. A nationwide TV and radio campaign was aired to educate both young men and women to act responsibly, and that decisions have consequences. As early as its first month since launch, the campaign drew positive feedback and proactive participation from the youth. With its general acceptance and early progress, this may well be the most successful campaign that Costa Rica has ever launched to fight teenage pregnancy.