What do numbers say? : Sexual and Reproductive Health of Colombian adolescents.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Education in Colombia, nine out of every 100 young women are pregnant before they turn 18 [1]. UNICEF’s statistics show that between 2000 and 2008 the adolescent birth rate was 96, i.e. from every 1000 women between 15 and 19, 96 babies were born. This is twice the world average of 49.9 for every 1000. In contrast to other South American countries, Colombia’s adolescent rate seems higher: in Argentina and Perú adolescent birth rate for the same time period was 65 and 59, respectively. If the rate is compared to developed countries like Canada or Germany, where the adolescent birth rate was 14 and 10 respectively, during the same time frame, Colombian statistics seem even higher. However, the result is less striking in comparison with other neighboring countries: the adolescent birth rate in Ecuador was 100 and in Venezuela 101 for the same period.

It is evident that the adolescent birth rate is high in Colombia and, that young women are getting pregnant at a young age, sometimes before having finished high school. Professional plans of teenage mothers are truncated, and their children may face harsh living conditions. According to Gabriel Ojeda, manager of evaluation and investigation from Profamilia [2], these children tend to have great risks of health problems, of morbidity rates, malnutrition and underdevelopment.
There are 911.897 unintended pregnancies in Colombia each year, which means 89 out of 1000 women, and around 44% of these pregnancies end up in an induced abortion [3].
Statistics for HIV/AIDS education among youth are scarce, and not even UNICEF can provide accurate numbers of what is happening in the country in terms of the knowledge teenagers have about sexually transmitted diseases. However, according to a survey from Profamilia in 2005, 90% of the interviewed women had at least heard about HIV/AIDS or other sexual transmitted diseases. Colombian Red Cross reported in 2008 that the cases of HIV/AIDS in Colombia were increasing and that officially around 57,500 persons were infected, but that a more realistic estimate could be as high as 172,000.
In contrast to these statistics that show that sexual practices among adolescents in Colombia are leading to unhealthy lifestyles, the Ministry of Education allied with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to create the “Education Program for Sexuality and the Construction of Citizenship” (EPSCC) [4]. The EPSCC understands sexuality in a broad sense, in which it is a source of pleasure, well-being and health, with diverse functions, components and contexts beyond reproduction. The objective of this program is not only to provide education about healthy sexual practices, but mainly to question the way in which they conceive interpersonal relations; including those with a sexual component, and all that they entail, i.e. their bodies, the use of language, power in the apparently fixed heterosexual gender roles, actions and tendencies defined as masculine or feminine, among others.
The program is being implemented in many schools around the country, as a component of every class. However, no results of the implementation of the EPSCC have been published. I have presented statistics from public and foreigner institutions, and from international organizations regarding the state of reproductive and sexual health from the youth in Colombia, but there are no numbers directly reporting the program’s achievements.
I strongly believe that the program is very well thought and that it has potential. Nonetheless, statistics about sexual and reproductive lifestyles of adolescents in Colombia make me ask myself a series of questions like:
Is the EPSCC ineffective?
Are the EPSCC strategies against unintended pregnancies weak?
Is the EPSCC causing these worrying statistics?
Is this program being implemented?
If so, how is it being implemented?
Has the government targeted the wrong element in this equation, and education is not the solution to this issue?

Among many other questions…

Quantitative measures intend to be more objective and precise than qualitative. However, there is still a lot to be said about this numbers and their relation to the EPSCC. If they point out a problem and if the EPSCC was created as a solution, then what is the link between these numbers and the program?

This case might point out that although statistics are useful to measure health population, they require analysis, explanation, discussion and relation to their context.

[1] “Educación sexual desde preescolar genera debate, (Sexual Education since Preeschools Created Controversy) 11 de octubre de 2007”. Plan Decenal de Educación 2006-2016. March 31, 2011. http://www.plandecenal.edu.co/html/1726/article-135742.html. Web.

[2] Profamilia can be translated as “for the family” and it is a private, non-profit Colombian organization that has been working for the welfare of Colombian families since 1967. It specializes in sexual and reproductive health and it offers medical services and education. For more information visit the web site: http://www.profamilia.org.co/

[3] On May 10, 2006 the Colombian Constitutional Court (sentence C-355) declared abortion legal in 3 circumstances: when a medical certificate ensures that continuing the pregnancy is dangerous for the life or health of the mother, when the pregnancy is a product of rape, incest, artificial inseminations or transference of a fertilized ovum without consent, or when, according to a medical certificate, it is not feasible that the fetus survives.

[4]http://www.mineducacion.gov.co/1621/propertyvalue-38519.html. September 14, 2011.

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