Article by Shahin Ahmed
(Student at National Law University
and Judicial Academy, Assam)
In a country of 1.3 billion population where every fifth person is between the age of 10 and 19 teenage pregnancy has cropped up as a pressing issue in India. According to a 2018 news report, India registers a whopping 16 million teenage pregnancies each year, which implies to 16 million women between the ages of 15-19 are impregnated.
Pregnant teenagers face consequential physical and mental health issues. Teens under the age of 15 are less likely to be physically mature to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Certain health risks linked with teen pregnancy are low birth weight, premature labor, anaemia and pre-eclampsia. These may lead to a vicious cycle of life-threatening consequences in terms of sexual and reproductive health. Among poverty stricken communities, it further perpetuates the cycle of poverty, causing higher developmental costs for the same. Data show that in marginalized countries, there is a higher risk of maternal death. Above all, teenage pregnancy is a curse to educational opportunities as many are forced to drop out at an early age, which further leads to a degradation of the country’s socio-economic prosperities.
Most of the teen parents do not attain emotional and intellectual maturity to bring a new life to the world. Numerous bodily transformations occur during the period of pregnancy. Most of the time the about to be teen mothers are unable to accept the hormonal reactions transpiring to their bodies, triggering recurring mood swings, which further lead to chronic depression, compelling them to have suicidal intent. The suicidal tendencies might also occur due to social stigma and lack of support.
The menace of teenage pregnancy is no short of medical pangs. The birth process is quite painful. As the expecting mothers are still in growing age, their hips and pelvis structures are not mature enough to support full vaginal births. This causes more labor pain resulting in adverse health risks even after the baby is conceived, thus complicating future conceiving plans.
Now, let’s shed some light on the possible adverse impacts of teenage pregnancy on the opposite gender.
Fathering in the age of teenage can be frantic. Although the fathers do not face any direct health implications of childbirth, they too face difficulties while studying and earning a living.
In remote areas, the frequency of child marriages is higher. Consequently, it leads to bearing a child at teenage. Conservative families often opt for child sex determination. We come across cases where the expecting teenage mothers opt for abortion when the foetus turns to be a girl child. The familial and societal pressures put the teenage mothers to try for the second child, resulting in dire health consequences.
In some instances, teen pregnancy occurs due to forced sexual intercourse, ergo getting married to the abuser against her consent. Due to the social stigma, the girl has to start a family and bear the child with her abuser, inevitably causing her to lead a traumatized life as she has to cohabit with her abuser. Even if she stands for her right and files complaint against the abuser, certainly the victim has to face the consequences from society as well as family. The victim lacks support from the stratified society. She is apparently labelled with certain keywords like impure, whore or slut-shamed throughout her life. It’s the conservative nature of the society that incessantly perpetrates character of the girl but the abuser is let go scot free.
There are specialized laws restraining teen pregnancy in India. According to Indian Law a woman who is not a major (below 18 years) cannot consent to sexual activity. Even though consent is granted it would be considered as rape. According to the law of Medical Termination of Pregnancy section 3, sub-clause 4, if a minor gets pregnant then she holds o legal right to terminate it unless guaranteed by a legal guardian for abortion.
India faces teen pregnancies mostly due to lack of sex education. Across schools and colleges, teachers are reluctant to provide sex education to students, lack of which eventually leads to curiosity among them. It generates immense sexual arousal to engage in unintended sexual activity, therefore resulting in unwanted pregnancies. Adolescents lack knowledge about the proper use of contraceptives due to lack of parental guidance. It’s an irony in India that even after being sexual beings, people hesitate to talk about sex explicitly. Without sexual education and counselling, adolescents are at a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. The loophole with contraceptives is that they are priced too high to be accessible for adolescents. Adolescents who do not have adequate knowledge and accessibility to contraceptives give way to early and unwanted pregnancies.
According to the data collated by the health department’s Mother and Child Healthcare Monitoring System, Bangalore has reported the highest number of teenage pregnancies in India. The top urban centers that witness teen pregnancy rates are Belagavi, Mysuru, Mangalore, Belari, Belgaum and Huballi-Dharwad districts. Gynaecologists suggest that curiosity, promiscuity, rape, early marriages and lack of awareness about contraception are primary reasons for teenage pregnancies in India.
Teen childbearing could lead to health, financial and social burdens for the mother and her child. The most effective way to prevent teen pregnancy is sexual abstinence. Teenagers must be guided about the consequences of unprotected sex and the most secure place to spill this out is home. Most importantly, parents need to act as confidants to their children. They need to advise their children specifically about the ill effects of early sex and pregnancy. Besides, schools need to impart knowledge about the proper use of contraceptives through sex education. Teens need to be made aware of the harsh negative impacts that an unplanned pregnancy can induce. The educational system should deliberately be inclusive about delivering sex education and create awareness among youths about the bodily transformations an adolescent undergoes. In closing, the young population must be provided a comprehensive understanding of abstinence, contraceptive techniques and consequences.
Picture Courtesy- Cassidy Rowell