Teen pregnancy has been an issue for decades, strongly affecting the Latin American community. Uruguayan filmmaker and photographer Christian Rodríguez brought the subject back into the spotlight with his recent Ted Talk, in August of this year.
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.
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Photo by @christian_foto Tomorrow I will share news from from my @ted talk in Arusha, Tanzania during #tedglobal2017 . I am part of the 2017 @tedfellow class. Stay tuned ✨⚡️💪🏽📸 Gissel Chauca (16) feeds her son Joshua Valle. Her boyfriend is named Luis and they have lived together for a year, since Gissel found out she was pregnant. At the beginning, she was very scared of her father and only told her mother the news, who told her she was disappointed because she had many plans for her future. Her family tried to convince her to have an abortion but she refused. She felt a little disappointed to not receive the support of her family. Gissel had a problem with her stepfather and left to live with Luis. Now the father of Gissel, who works in a security company, adores Joshua and wants to bring him to his work every day. She attend "Patrimonio de la Humanidad" school in quito, Ecuador. Photo by @christian_foto #teenmom #tedfellow #quito #ecuador #ted
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.
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Photo by @christian_foto LINK on profile 👆🏾⚡️🌟 Interview on @TED @TEDfellow blog about my ongoing project TEEN MOM Micaela (15) and her newborn, Franco. (Montevideo, Uruguay.) Photo by @christian_foto #teenmom #youngmother #tedfellow2017 #ted #tedfellow #latinamerica #uruguay
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.