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Cristina López del Burgo, department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health e Institute for Culture and Society

The best tool to protect girls and adolescents

Thu, 31 Oct 2013 10:45:00 +0000 Published in La Razón

According to the UN Population Fund's report "Maternal Childbearing", 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth globally. Ninety-five percent of these births occur in countries in development.

Pregnancy in girls and adolescents not only affects their physical health (fistulas, hemorrhages, infections, etc.), but also their emotional development and their future in society. But we must not forget that having sex at an early age is in itself a health risk factor, regardless of whether or not pregnancy occurs, as shown by numerous scientific programs of study and international organizations.

In Spain, the rate of minors becoming pregnant has been increasing over the years, despite campaigns promoting the use of condoms and other contraceptive methods. These campaigns usually transmit to adolescents the message of "absolute safety" and invulnerability if they use condoms. This supposed absolute safety (which is not real, since condoms are not 100% effective), leads them to increase other higher-risk sexual behaviors, such as changing sexual partners or starting to have sex earlier. This phenomenon, known as "risk compensation", explains why, despite the increased use of contraceptives and/or condoms, early pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections continue to increase. In addition, it has been shown that young people have more failures when it comes to using condoms, so the effectiveness is even lower.

According to the UN report , poverty, early marriages and lack of access to Education are the main underlying causes of early pregnancy. Clearly, in the face of a multi-causal problem, the solution cannot be limited to promoting the use of contraceptives or to internship abortion, status which further worsens the emotional development of these girls. Apart from changing the laws that protect early marriages and improving economic conditions and support for families, Education is the best tool for the protection of children and adolescents. But it has to be a Education that strengthens their character, that orients them towards goals in life, that strengthens their own dignity and self-esteem, that helps them to understand their own feelings and manage them in the best way within their own future projection. In final, a Education that encompasses all the dimensions of the person.