“There's just so many ways that we need to go about it. I know that it's often said that teen pregnancy is a cause of poverty. But I'm thinking this is something that exists before the pregnancy in many cases. And so that's something that we need to go to the root of. It's not enough to say that if we are to reduce teen pregnancy rates that it's going to solve that issue of poverty among Latinos.”1
Christina Martinez, mother of four children and a teacher in Sacramento, California, got pregnant with her first child at the age of 17. Seventeen years later, she has proved to be an anomaly amongst Latina teen mothers: while Martinez claimed her pregnancy challenged her to continue her education and have a successful career, the majority of teenage Latina mothers never return to school; Mexico provides a significant example of this dilemma.
In Mexico, high rates of teenage pregnancy provide ample examples of young women whose academic and professional futures are inhibited by early motherhood. According to the World Health Organization, one in five live births in Mexico are by mothers under 20 years of age.2 With such a high rate of teenage pregnancy, Mexico may find it hard to achieve higher levels of education that would benefit both individuals and the country as a whole.
María del Rosario Cárdenas, a research professor at Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University, stresses the various benefits of reducing the rate of teenage pregnancy: “In addition to impacting the quality of life of the next generation, early reproduction represents a lost opportunity for society to have better-prepared citizens, and with them, a greater potential contribution to development,” said Ms. Cárdenas.2
A study published by the Latin American Journal of Economics found that teenage pregnancy results in the loss of about 1.2 years of mothers’ education: in 2010, 41 percent of Mexican mothers between 12 and 19 years old had not completed their primary education. This data suggests that teenage pregnancy leads to lower overall levels of education and in turn lower household income. Also, since social mobility is limited in Mexico, teenage parenthood could result in an “intergenerational poverty trap.”3
However, as Christina Martinez explained, that does not mean that poverty alone is always an indicator of teenage pregnancy. How can Mexico’s teen pregnancy rates be lowered? Officials have faulted a variety of sources in the promulgation of teenage pregnancy.
Culture of Gender
Research suggests that the ability of a man to impregnate a woman establishes a man’s masculinity. In a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, male gender role ideology amongst Mexican men had a direct relationship to number of pregnancies: the accepted notion of masculinity led to higher numbers of pregnancies.4 Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto pinpointed this issue when he announced the new National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “In short, we have to advance and eradicate the macho culture that aggravates this social problem,” Mr. Peña Nieto said.2
UNICEF representative Isabel Crowley applauded the government’s intentions, and emphasized that sexism against women must be abandoned in order work towards lowering teenage motherhood and poverty rates.5
Taboo of Contraception
Catholicism’s traditional treatment of pregnancy and contraception presents another challenge Mexican officials face when confronting teenage pregnancy. Mexico, whose population identifies as predominantly Catholic, has not previously emphasized the need for sexual education in schools–maintaining the Catholic doctrine that rejects all forms of contraception except for abstinence.
Christina Martinez commented on her little experience in sexual education classes: “As far as teachers went, there was very little discussion. I think I can remember having one sex education class, if you will. And that was in fifth grade - so way before the onset of puberty, for me, anyway - and that was it. So the conversation in school was pretty much null.”1
To address the lack of sexual education, the National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy aims to provide men and women with better access to birth control and education in methods of birth control.
In the same vein, Catholicism’s rejection of abortion is evident throughout most of Mexico: Mexico has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. While Mexico City decriminalized abortion in 2007, in most of Mexico, abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is at stake. As a result, most young Mexican women faced with pregnancy have no choice but to see it to term.
Human Beings, Not Statistics
No one solution exists for reducing teenage pregnancy. As Ms. Martinez emphasized, officials must look past just numbers because “what forms that young woman and that young man's decisions, varies from situation to situation.”1 Therefore, Mexican officials need to address the academic, socioeconomic and sexual health challenges that many young men and women face in order to deter early pregnancy and promote continued education and sexual health practices. By implementing holistic policy measures, the Mexican government hopes to shift previous cultural norms in order to improve its citizens’ quality of life.
In the end, women should be able to make their own choices when it comes to their bodies through educational guidance and readily available health assistance. Dr. Vicki Camacho–from the World Health Organization Department of Adolescent Health and Development–eloquently summed up this point: “girls need space for development. Girls need to be empowered to make the right decisions at the right time. If they really decide to have sex, they have to think about what it means and what are the implications of having sex. To do so, they need to have the right information, they need to know where to get services, they need to know what it means having a baby, what are the consequences and the implications.”
1 "Why Do More Latina Teens Get Pregnant?" NPR. NPR, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2 Guthrie, Amy. "Mexico Announces Plan to Stem Rising Rate of Teen Pregnancies."The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
3 Arceo-Gomez, Eva O., and Raymundo M. Campos-Vazquez. "Teenage pregnancy in Mexico: evolution and consequences." Latin American Journal of Economics 51.1 (2014): 109+. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
4 Goodyear, Rodney K., Michael D. Newcomb, and Russell D. Allison. "Predictors of Latino Men's Paternity in Teen Pregnancy: Test of a Mediational Model of Childhood Experiences, Gender Role Attitudes, and Behaviors." Journal of Counseling Psychology 47.1 (2000): 116-28. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
5 "UN Applauds Mexican Policies against Teen Pregnancy." El Universal. El Universal, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
6 Gaestel, Allyn. "Mexican Women Pay High Price for Country’s Rigid Abortion Laws."The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
7 "Teenage Pregnancies Cause Many Health, Social Problems." WHO. World Health Organization, 13 Feb. 2009. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.