Driven by ignorance into teen motherhood

“Under no circumstances will we keep the baby,” says the mother of a pregnant girl,15,whose 17-year-old boyfriend is in a remand home and accused of rape

Written by Ananya Banerjee | Mumbai | Published:December 19, 2011 3:01 am

“Under no circumstances will we keep the baby,” says the mother of a pregnant girl,15,whose 17-year-old boyfriend is in a remand home and accused of rape. “It was conceived in an act of sin and it deserves to be given away,” says the mother,though the daughter is hoping the boy will marry her when the baby is born.

“We may be poor,but we have dignity. For the past four days,the entire neighbourhood has been talking about it,” adds the mother,who earns a living as a vendor on Mumbai’s streets.

The teen pregnancy has highlighted not only its social implications and a trend — 6.7 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 in Mumbai were or had been pregnant,or were already mothers,according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in 2005-06 — but also how little many such girls know of contraceptive measures or the consequences of unsafe sex.

The 15-year-old,currently in Mumbai’s Bhagwati Hospital,recalls how her boyfriend of almost a year had used birth control measures only in the initial phases. Later,he claimed it was not required since he would marry her anyway.

“Premarital sex is definitely more rampant today than it was 10 years ago. Girls today are more aware of the consequences of unwanted pregnancies and HIV. Unfortunately,most often,they are dangerously ill-informed,” says Dr Duru Shah,former president of the Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetrics Societies of India (FOGSI).

“Ninety-five per cent of girls don’t use protection the first time they have sex. Many of them are unaware of the morning-after pill and come to me asking for the best methods of contraception only after they’ve undergone an abortion.” Shah says.

The girl now in Bhagwati Hospital had missed four periods before she informed her boyfriend,who got her a pregnancy kit and an abortion pill. It was only around the 24th week that her parents noticed and approached a private clinic for an abortion,which was denied as her pregnancy was past the legal limit.

Teen mothers and their babies are also vulnerable to health complications. In a study headed by Dr Ashwini Bhalerao Gandhi at Nowrosjee Wadia Maternity Hospital,it was found that younger girls are more likely to give birth to low-weight babies (see chart).

“The pregnant teenager is often not fit enough to bear the burden of another individual inside her. Under-nutrition,anaemia,toxicaemia of pregnancy,premature deliveries,stillbirths and perinatal morbidity are common hazards among pregnant teenagers,” says Dr Gandhi.

Experts feel that mandatory sex education and responsibility on part of the girl will help curb unwanted pregnancies and consequent abortions. “Despite all the modernisation around,even upper-class urban parents are unwilling to talk to their children about sex,” says Usha Rane,regional head of NGO Pratham. “As a consequence,children get information from wrong sources…”

Dr Shah recalls a young girl who had her abortion done by a dentist. “When she came to me later for consultation,she said she had wanted to be discreet and hadn’t bothered to check the doctor’s credentials,” says Dr Shah.

“There need to be adolescent-friendly clinics in all college across the city. There’s nothing much that can be done to curb premarital sex. What really needs to be done is to ensure that it is safe sex.”

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