Rodríguez spent the last five years documenting teen pregnancy in Latin America for his project, entitled “Teen Mom.” The concept of underage girls becoming mothers hits even closer to home. His mother was a teenage mother, and his sister gave birth at 16. It is not uncommon; in fact, “in developing countries, 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth each year.” That is 20,000 underage births a day, according to the United Nations Population Fund. At this rate, UNICEF suggests that the “teen pregnancy rate in Latin America will be the highest in the world for the next 80 years.” In Mexico, that means almost one in every two non-virgin adolescents is getting pregnant under the age of 19. Some of these mothers are as young as 12 years old, suddenly placed into the role of providing for another child.
It’s not only the huge responsibility of motherhood that affects these teen moms. According to the World Health Organization, women who get pregnant in Latin America, before the age of 16, have four times the risk of maternal death, compared to that of a woman in her 20s. If she survives giving birth, the mother’s future doesn’t look too promising. Many are victims of abuse, gender violence, and lack of opportunities. These young mothers rarely get access to adequate healthcare and education, and are stuck in a cycle of poverty.
But all hope isn’t lost. Rodríguez suggests that the gender roles in Latin-America have to evolve (and worldwide, for that matter). The gender equity gap can be narrowed by giving girls the same access to education and life opportunities sometimes only given to boys in Latin America, and teaching young men not to become macho. The expectation of women to only be mothers has to evolve into a choice that the girl has in the future, not an expectation. Once girls are given more choices in their own lives, and allowed to not only have a proper childhood, but also the rights that allow their future to be limitless, the teen pregnancy epidemic will decline. Meanwhile, what we can do now is increase of awareness of this massive problem, share the word, and start to demand change, from the highest officials in government, down to communities, families, and individuals.
Watch Rodriguez’s talk here.