Pregnant at 18, expelled from school and no support from her parents.
This is a tragic story of a teenage girl from Anuradhapura. Let’s call her Namali because her story is real and she deserves to be more than a statistic.
Namali was a bright student, she obtained 9 distinctions for her Ordinary Level exams, and was hoping to score high at her Advance Level exams as well. Growing up in a single parent household, with her mother and three other siblings, she came from an underprivileged background. But she fought against the odds and studied hard hoping to do well in life.
When Namali’s mother could not afford to pay for any extra classes for her Advance Levels, it was her boyfriend who offered to help with the money. The set up worked for a while — until her abusive father came back into their lives. In a fit of rage her father cast her out of their home, leaving her little choice but to move in with her boyfriend.
While living at his home, her boyfriend’s sister warned her against using contraceptive pills. She told Namali that the pills could make her infertile in the future. The last thing she wanted was to get pregnant; she knew it would affect her education, so she suggested that her boyfriend and she have sex only during her ‘safe days’. Safe days isn’t the best form of contraception, and it was not too long before she discovered she was pregnant.
Namali tried to commit suicide after many failed attempts to abort her unborn child.
Teenage pregnancy in Sri Lanka
Her story is not too different from many other pregnant teens. According to this article in The Sunday Times, around 20,000 girls below the age of 20 years become pregnant every year. Some of them are as young as 11 years. The reasons for pregnancy can be anything from the lack of comprehensive reproductive health education and rape to poverty.
Here’s an infographic published with the article that gives you an overview of teen pregnancies in Sri Lanka.
It is encouraging that the percentage of teen pregnancies has dropped from 2007 to 2012. However, there could be more that are not covered by official statistics.
We also don’t know if this drop means there has been an increase in the number of pregnancies that are aborted or go unregistered – which would make the situation even worse.
Teen pregnancy high in certain districts
Teenage pregnancy is disturbingly high in certain districts. The table below lists teen pregnancies from 2007 to 2009 in each district.
Teenage pregnancy is the highest in Trincomalee and been increasing over the three years. Mullativu and Batticaloa are other areas where teen pregnancies are on the decline.
The UNFPA report lists several reasons as to why teen pregnancies occur in Sri Lanka. One is the high level of unmet need for family planning because of various myths about practicing family planning. Another important factor listed is the lack of access to contraceptives.
How can comprehensive reproductive health education help?
Comprehensive reproductive health education alone will not solve the issue. It won’t help teenage rape victims, and to combat sexual crimes we need stricter laws, stronger policies and better law enforcement.
But in cases such as Namali’s, reproductive health education could have made a difference. It would have busted the myth that contraceptive pills would render her infertile in future. She would have known that sex during her ‘safe period’, is not quite safe. She would have known about different forms of contraception that are available.
Sri Lanka needs a comprehensive reproductive health education in schools around the island. With free education, almost all girls and boys receive their primary and secondary education. By introducing reproductive health knowledge, we can hope that a majority of adolescents would not be misled by myths and misconceptions about reproductive health.