The Ministry of Health announced that according to a Demographic and Health Survey, the teenage pregnancy rate was increasing.
The rate was 36 such cases per every 1,000 female teenage girls, the Family Health Bureau (FHB) pointed out.
The School Health Unit of the FHB informed that the percentage of teenage pregnancies in proportion to the total pregnancies was decreasing (5.1%).
Official statistics reveal that district-wise teenage pregnancies (the percentage out of the total number of registered pregnant mothers) in 2015, were 3.8% in Colombo (0.3% increase from 2014), 7% in the Colombo Municipal Council area (0.7% increase from 2014), 4.3% in Gampaha, 4.4% in Kalutara (0.2% increase from 2014) and 5.4% in Kalutara again.
Statistics from the National Institute of Health Sciences (1.7% increase from 2014), 4.6% in Kandy (0.6% increase from 2014), 4.3% in Matale, 5.4% in Nuwara Eliya (0.9% increase from 2014), 5.9% in Galle (1% increase from 2014), 4.9% in Matara (0.5% increase from 2014), 4.9% in Hambantota (0.1% increase from 2014), 3.3% in Jaffna, 6.4% in Kilinochchi, 4.3% in Mannar, 5.9% in Vavuniya, 7.4% in Mullaitivu, 8.7% in Batticaloa (0.4% increase from 2014), 5.2% in Ampara (0.2% increase from 2014), 6.1% in Kalmunai (0.4 increase from 2014), 9% in Trincomalee (0.5% increase from 2014), 4% in Kurunegala (0.3% increase from 2014), 8% in Puttalam (0.6% increase from 2014), 7% in Anuradhapura (1.5% increase from 2014), 4.3% in Polonnaruwa (0.2% increase from 2014), 5.9% in Badulla (0.3% increase from 2014), 5.1% in Moneragala (0.3% increase from 2014), 5.1% in Ratnapura (0.2% increase from 2014) and 4.5% in Kegalle (0.8% increase from 2014). Nationally the figure was 5.2% for 2015, 0.3% up from 2014.
National Programme Manager of the School Health of the FHB of the Ministry of Health, Consultant Community Physician Dr. Ayesha Lokubalasuriya remarked that the main reason for teenage pregnancy is the tendency of teenagers to take decisions emotionally due to immaturity, leading to early co-habitation. This is partly due to poor parenting skills. Another reason is child marriages sanctioned under the Sharia law as is the case with regard to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), No. 13 of 1956, which specifies no minimum age of marriage.
In all the cases of co-habiting and child marriages, girls are influenced to have babies early, depriving them from going to schools. These teenagers are still children, even though they are being married off. They are still growing and their nutritional requirements are high and these factors negatively affect the fetal growth. This results in their babies being of low birth weight. The maternal mortality rate is five times high in teenage mothers.
It is the contention that national policy-makers should take relevant measures to reduce child marriages. The Constitution has a clause giving power to override traditional laws. However, the policy-makers are reluctant to intervene since the issue is related to ethnicity.
“Girls must be empowered while in school to deal with sexual encounters and to learn to say no to one’s partner”, Dr. Lokubalasuriya said.
“There are different reasons for this. One is that adolescents are unable to control their emotions. They have affairs without knowing the limits and sometimes get pregnant. Secondly, in the case of teenagers of certain minor communities especially in Embilipitiya, Polonnaruwa and Jaffna, their parents stop looking after them, especially children above 12 years of age due to their poor socio-economic status. These children are not sent to schools. They stay at home without adult supervision. They start living together early in life and as a result have babies during their teenage years. A huge effort is required to tackle this problem. Children are suffering. From a professional and humane level this cannot be approved,” Dr. Lokubalasuriya added.
Meanwhile, the judiciary explained that underage marriages or child marriages which are sanctioned under the MMDA posed a huge issue in terms of a health problem in relation to malnutrition.
Such marriages can also be defined as acts of statutory rape. Calcium is required for the formation of one’s bone structure.
A retired Judge who wished to remain anonymous pointed out that if a child of 13 or 14 years of age, whose bones were forming and as a result were not yet fully formed, marries and gets pregnant, both the expectant mother and the child would be in need of calcium.
At this stage of the 13-or 14-year- old female’s development, there is not enough calcium for the mother and the child, he emphasized.
Such marriages are arranged marriages, which deeply affect the wellbeing of the female, the Judge noted.
“The health authorities have to deal with these underage mothers who upon pregnancy enter the health system in the country”, he further elaborated.
The Muslim community in the Eastern and Northern Provinces where such occurrences are high (it is also high within the Colombo City limits) have been advised to come forward to safeguard the rights of the girl child, including the right to an education and privileges enjoyed by other children, as such a move would be the most effective approach.
It is understood that matters concerning public health, primarily abortion to be allowed in the case of congenital abnormalities, family planning and teen pregnancies are to be taken up with the Minister of Health as a national priority.