A woman carrying a bulky package of pink blankets stands in a corner. It’s obvious she’s not skilled at carrying babies. The heavy pañalera hangs from her bony shoulder, as if filled with rocks. When I finally approach, I see her worried and painfully young face – maybe 14. She’s all by herself, with her baby in her arms. One girl carrying another.  

I’ve spotted very young moms escorted by very young dads who, for some reason, seem always in charge of the pañaleras. And young moms accompanied by their also young moms, looking for diapers, baby formula, or medicines for babies. It’s not rare in Venezuela’s small towns and in urban barrios to find grandmothers in their 30s.

Teenage pregnancy in Venezuela is so pervasive that it’s one of the few issues (together with maternal mortality) the Maduro regime has recognized as a serious social challenge. Figures from the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica indicate that 22.2% of all births in 2012 came from adolescents under 20. UNFPA’s 2014 edition of the State of the World Population Report registered Venezuela with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the region. The 2016 version places it third, only after Bolivia and Honduras, still well above regional and world averages.

Walking around Caracas, particularly in low and medium income neighborhoods, these figures are very palpable, and while the majority of pregnancies occur among 15 and 17 year old teenagers, the number of girls between 10 and 12 giving birth has been increasing.

UNFPA’s 2014 edition of the State of the World Population Report registered Venezuela with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the region.

Behind these figures there are all sorts of situations that go from from lack of information and peer pressure, to violence, neglect and sexual abuse. In certain socio-economic contexts, becoming a mother is kind of a rite of passage for teenage girls, as they “finally become” women.

So, in a society where the main expectation for women is to be mothers (something systematically reinforced by Maduro’s brand of “feminism”), becoming one seems to grant these girls some sort of social existence. That this could be culturally tolerable in some circles doesn’t make it right. On the contrary, this kind of moral relativism stands in the way of girls’ proper development and opportunities.

Having kids at a young age decreases the chances of getting an education and better paid jobs later in life. In fact, teenage pregnancy is considered a mechanism for the intergenerational reproduction of poverty. Official reports indicate that 7 out of 10 teenage girls dropped out of school due to pregnancy, a vast majority from poor households. So teenage pregnancy, while a public health issue, is also a social problem.

Now, zoom into Venezuela’s severe contraceptive shortages (it stands at a staggering 90%), lack of sexual and reproductive health services for teenagers in the context of a failing public health system, and one of the region’s most restrictive frameworks on abortion, and there’s a certain possibility that teenage pregnancy is far bigger than what we’ve discussed here. The future of these girls is at stake, facing a life-long expectation of poverty and hardship.

The regime’s answer is not different from its response to everything else: quiet inaction. So maybe it’s time to do the one thing we should have done as a society, ever since this issue was first noticed in those days of la cuarta:

We should care.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Here in rural Venezuela, 14 seems to be the magic age. One by one they all seem to become pregnant, one by one they’re later seen walking the streets with the kid in tow and no father to be found anywhere.

    There are any number of cause & effect issues that could be discussed, but from my first days here, the one thing that stood out to me was the fact that these kids are on the streets at all hours of the day. When I was a youngster, I was in class by 8:20 in the morning and we were forbidden to leave school grounds until 4:00 in the afternoon unless accompanied by a parent.

    Now, I realize there are two sessions for classes here (mainly because of lack of classroom space and no meals being prepared at midday) but still, at 8, 9, 10 in the morning, or at 1, 2 and 3 in the afternoon, kids are still walking around the pueblo dressed in school uniforms. They somehow find the time and a place to copulate, and I suspect most are impregnated during those hours.they should have been in classes.

  2. Has the teenage pregnancy rate increased as everything else has collapsed?
    The infant mortality rate’s continuing climb caused by lack of prenatal and neonatal care, lack of access to medicines, malnourished mothers and children and the hyperinflation that will make needed supplies harder and harder to access, make this a scary time for any pregnant woman.
    Starting a family is stressful when you have access to everything. I can’t picture many people planning to become parents during the ongoing crisis.
    One of the people in the circle of Venezuelans that I am helping is 6 months pregnant. She is an unmarried teenager and the pregnancy was not planned. Fortunately I have been able to get some of the things that are important (Folic acid, vitamins, protein powder etc..) to the family.
    The nagging worry is that any medical situation that is considered minor and easily addressed in the US, has the potential to be fatal due to the collapsed health care infrastructure.
    The regime has so much blood on its hands that it seems nothing they do can motivate an their overthrow.

    • “Has the teenage pregnancy rate increased as everything else has collapsed?”

      Oh yes, that has increased steadily without stopping

      The malnutrition, infant mortality and maternal mortality increase as the infant pregnancy rates increase. It is not a deterrant, is a direct consequence.

      There was even a “Mision Madre del Barrio” (Mission Slum mother ) where the government explicitly encouraged teenage pregnant girls in the slums by promising economic incentives for each kid they pop out.

      Theres an entire chapter in “open veins of Latin America” dedicated to how family planning and childbirth control is nothing but fascism imposed by the Imperio. The same book that Chavez glorified. And there you go…

  3. Great article, I particularly like the emphasis on the cultural causes. Many of these girls get pregnant at such a young age on purpose.

    What I don’t like is the platitude at the end “We should care.” People do care, but this is one of thousands of tragedies of this country.

    Anything people can do about this will be a drop in the bucket while Maduro is in power. Civil society is already doing awesome efforts to help with the food and medicine crisis, and it’s not nearly enough. Fe y Alegria, a bastion of light in this country, hasn’t been able to stem the tidal wave of shit that has flooded Venezuela. So let’s be realistic about what can and can’t be done in a narcodictatorship.

  4. Excellent article. It’s hard to prioritize things in Venezuela, where hunger is so real, where disease goes untreated because of no medicine, where military tribunals condemn peaceful protesters in secret trials.

    But a social order that can’t be bothered to prevent pregnancies among 12 or 14 year old girls is one that is condemning a generation of women. Their children will have an even more uphill struggle on average, too, extending the effects long into the future.

    • “It’s hard to prioritize things in Venezuela”

      That’s because those problems must be faced simultaneously and not one after another.

  5. A kid named Pedro who lives a block from here and who sometimes worked on my place when we needed extra help had a baby daughter as he turned 17. I recall telling him, “just think, at 32 you’ll be a grandpa”. Of course, his dad has something like 17 kids with 3 or 4 different women. It’s cultural. I don’t see it ever changing, at least not here in the sticks.

  6. When our CARE packages used to get through to las tias, we always sent bulk packages of condoms. Not that the aunties were in dire need of condoms, but was something easy to send (light weight, compact) that could be easily bartered. And if we could access birth control pills, I am sure the aunties could retire. Things are that desperate.

    You are correct about the culture. There is a similar mindset in the United States among some cultural subsets. Grandma was an unwed teen mother. Mom was an unwed teen mother. I’m an unwed teen mother. My daughter will be an unwed teen mother. It’s part of being “a mom”. Its very sad, but nothing will change until the mindset changes. (or an omnipotent government starts infusing food and water with birth control drugs)

  7. If you are seriously interested in heading off this issue. I’m quite sure that thousands of Venezuelans specially those who live abroad could organize an NGO along the lines of the Bill And Melinda Gates Fiundation. But judging by the lack of comments on your column there might not be sufficient interest to get the ball rolling.

    Regards.

  8. Part of the problem is caused by the consistent fallacy that “birth control is a burgueoise fascist mechanism to annihilate the poor” and that “birth control is murder”, both things spouted non-stop by leftist swindlers who want to use some “easy christianism” to permeate easier into communities and gain adepts.

    Other reasons include the idea that “having a baby will help the woman to ‘amarrar a su macho’ (Leash her male)”, which is also useless because facts have shown that when an irresponsible man wants to abandon the family he does that (Women can do that too, that’s not a only-male problem) or having the pregnancy as a symbol of status such as “being the woman of the Yonaikel” when girls seek malandros as mates as protection from other malandros that might kill them or their families.

  9. I think it’s really important to unpack what ‘it is cultural’ might mean. Culture involves taken for granted ways of knowing and doing, which makes this a plausible explanation but also one that is difficult to intervene in (medically or socially). Gender inequality is culturally reproduced in popular texts, social media, family relations, at school. On the other hand, evolutionary and life-history theorists have posited a positive correlation between teenage pregnancy and hopelessess: if there is little chance of a job and life choices, then let’s make sure we get a child out to have reproductive success in a life that may be brutish and short. It is also important to appreciate how class structures and sexual inequality (entrenched sexism) normalise teenage pregnancy. There is abundant development evidence from around the world to demonstrate that focusing on educational outcomes for young women has tremendous positive consequences across society, and not just for women, in terms of health, equality and productivity, etc. This is a hugely important topic, and I am really glad that questions of gender in relation to the failed revolution are being addressed in this blog.

  10. I appreciate the thoughtful comments here. I really do. But let’s face facts:

    These are just kids who want to fuck. with no thought of the consequences whatsoever.

    And all of the NGOs in the world can’t stop that.

    • Hehehe… This it the best comment so far.

      If you have parents and upbringing with no sense of what the consequences are (we used to call that “morals” where I came from), don’t have a fainting spell when problems get out of hand.

      And don’t think that other more serious criminal activity is far behind. These tend to go hand in hand quite nicely.

      But, SOCIALISM!!! COMMUNISM!!! These will fix everything. A chicken in every pot and a bun in every oven.

  11. There’s also the goverment pension program for teenage moms that, you guessed it, increased the number of teenage moms since having a child is seen as a way of economic independance….from their mothers (that were also teenage moms).

    Multiply that for the number of years the revolution has stayed and there you go.

  12. There are studies made in different parts of latam where too early pregnancy is a problem and the key factor is that many of these very young mothers see it as a rite of passage to the respected status of mothers , they want to get pregnant and have a man in their lives who ‘represents’ them , its nothing new but its getting worse even if population growth is in in steady decline …..it is largely a cultural thing among the most socialy backward least educated segments of latam population . The problem is old and also exists in american ghettos ……

    The result is mothers so young that they cant take care of their babies who as a result suffer from neglect and malnourishment and whose babies end up saddled up with addled brains and chronic ailments . My daughter ,a physician , worked with these young mothers in the barrios and was sadenned at the sorry state of their babies and how they had no notion of how to take care of them and how limited their intelligence , even if spoken to in the simplest of language they often didnt understand what they had to do to take care of their children or treat their illnesses. Its a self feeding problem , the children of very inmature mothers tend to breed more inmature mothers……

    If you pair this cultural trend with the practice of ‘machista’ men to neglect and abandon their partnrers and families you have a time bomb for social situations were huge swaths of people are incapable of being useful citizens in a modern society and must be supported by the govt one way or the other while becoming fanatic followers of snake charmer demagogues ……

    Some times the family does right by their daughters but in Barrio conditions the young malandro often wants to show off his manliness by taking the young girlt to be their ‘women’, my daughter knew of a family , which had to try and hide their daughter with distant relatives because the local head of a band wanted to have her as his ‘mate’ , the girls was barely 14.

    According to my daughter to counter this trend there there also many SUPER MOMS in the barrios who did everything they could and more to keep their children protected and healthy , who were very aggresive and demanding in protecting their children …….culture is a big factor but it isnt everything …….!!

    Many of the young mothers after having their 1st child realize that they have to stop breeding and just focus on their single child …..in the US the best program is one where a young mother after having her 1st or 2nd child are incentivated to allow long term contraceptives to be implanted in their bodies ………they last one or 2 years and are really effective in stemming the flow. In Venezuela I would pay these women or their mothers to allow such contraceptives to be used ……..and sanction the men who are irresponsible in breeding and then neglecting their offspring ……..

    • There was talk years ago, of injecting a “de-masculinizing” drug into prolific breeding males who were not taking financial responsibility for their progeny. Oh, how the howls started…. it was OK to insert contraceptives in the female breeder class, but heaven forbid a male seed-donor be given something that would shrivel his nuts and prevent his wing-wang from being used for anything other than a water relief valve.

  13. Here’s a quick anecdote: One of my friends was studying to become a teacher so she needed to do an internship on a Public Education System School, she did so and was in charge of Phsycopedagogical counseling: Young girls at their 14ths were surprised when they found out that her [at her twenties] was still single and did not planned to become a mother soon, the say that she was being foolish, sice pregnancy was the key to “holding a man”

  14. Gender equality, measured by a range of metrics, correlates strongly with socio-economic development and low fertility. If there is an increase in teenage pregnancy, it means there is both an increase in poverty and/or gender inequality. The two go hand in hand. It has nothing to do with ‘kids wanting to fuck’ and everything to do with young women feeling like they have a multiplicity of future options, which, in Venezuela right now they don’t

  15. […] Teenage pregnancy: “A child is born to a teenage mother every three minutes” in Venezuela, explained UNFPA assistant representative Jorge González Caro, who said that our teenage pregnancy rate is way above the Latin American average, which produces a situation of exclusion from the educative and labor system, continues the cycles of poverty and violence, and reduces the possibilities for the country’s development. […]

  16. […] Teenage pregnancy: “A child is born to a teenage mother every three minutes” in Venezuela, explained UNFPA assistant representative Jorge González Caro, who said that our teenage pregnancy rate is way above the Latin American average, which produces a situation of exclusion from the educative and labor system, continues the cycles of poverty and violence, and reduces the possibilities for the country’s development. […]

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