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Vulnerable teens in developing countries need help

Vulnerable teens in developing countries need help

Sharon Njobo, CCFC manager of sponsor services, explains why it’s important to keep pregnant teens in our sponsorship programs

By Sharon Njobo
CCFC manager, sponsor services

Working at Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC), I see the benefits and challenges of our efforts. Case in point: learning about the pregnancy of teenagers in our sponsorship program cast a shadow of sadness on our sponsor services team. CCFC hosts workshops on sexual reproductive health and offers skills-training courses to show future job possibilities for women, but teen pregnancy is a global issue, which we continue to tackle in our offices.

Here at CCFC’s sponsor services’ department, we’re a team of women — all mothers. We know the physical, emotional and financial strain of pregnancy. There’s little doubt this stress is compounded for a teenager in a developing country with limited health care. So, we always agonized over removing a child from the sponsorship program because she was pregnant. At times, we would plead to keep these children in the program. At times it worked, at times it didn’t.

So, when I travelled to Nicaragua recently, early pregnancy was on the agenda for discussion with CCFC’s implementing partners. I wasn’t sure how CCFC’s position would be received; some of our partners previously believed pregnant teenagers were a bad example to other children and should not be “rewarded” by being allowed to remain in the sponsorship program.

CCFC recognizes early pregnancy and early marriage threaten to reverse community-development gains in education, maternal health and children’s rights. Indeed, medical risks are great, the prospect of completing school is diminished and future opportunities are grim. But, pregnancy shouldn’t truncate a girl’s future. Consider that teenage pregnancy persists in Latin America due to issues such as poverty, sexual violence, inadequate protection of minors, weak implementation of national laws and lack of awareness of sexual health and reproductive rights. As a result, the following statistics from the World Health Organization are a sad reality:

  • approximately 16-million girls, aged 15 to 19 and some one-million girls under the age of 15 give birth every year — most in low- and middle-income countries;
  • More than 70,000 adolescent girls die from pregnancy and child-birth complications;
  • approximately three-million girls, aged 15 to 19, undergo unsafe abortions annually.

So, pregnant children will now remain in CCFC sponsorship programs in all our countries of operation as long as they are below the age of 18 and are attending school (or will continue to attend school after the birth). After our meeting in Nicaragua, we agreed pregnant children have unique needs, and keeping them in our sponsorship programs will ensure they remain in a supportive environment with access to maternal health care, neo-natal care and education. Now their futures are brighter.