Teenage Pregnancy: A Red Alert For India

The societal control on women’s sexuality, lack of comprehensive sex education, poor access to contraceptive services by adolescents and youth are some of the reasons for this unprecedented rise.

“Buried under her winter jackets, I didn’t realise another baby was growing in our family,” cried the mother of 14-year-old. Her daughter, naive and oblivious, was raped by her paternal uncle.

She was beyond the provisions of Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act to undergo abortion when she approached the doctors. An adolescent, grappling with her rapidly changing physiology, could hardly comprehend the rapidly growing pregnancy imposed upon her.

The law of this country has the hands of us doctors tied as it does not allow abortion after 20 weeks of gestation period. Caught in the legal logjam, this time limit got crossed and termination at this stage meant more risks for the mother and the baby. The unfortunate incident caught everyone’s frenzy. While the majority ranted about the failing law and morale in the society, few had any inkling on how this teenager would cope with the pressures this precocious motherhood imposed on her body and psyche.

I remember while I was writing the story about ‘An Unexpected Visitor’ in my book ‘Chronicles Of A Gynaecologist’, I was a little reluctant. I would ask myself, will this generation relate with an adolescent in her trademark blue skirt and red ribbons, who walks into the hospital holding the hands of her father, delivers the baby silently, springs down the labour table and just as quietly walks away? In another story I wrote, ‘The Widow’, a young widow gets pregnant by incest and a broomstick is inserted inside her for abortion. She develops septic abortion, gets most of her bowel resected and later on, dies. Again, I hesitated. These two instances happened around two decades back. The present internet savvy generation was much better, I thought. But, I was too optimistic.

The early months of 2017 brought a 19-year-old with her bowel hanging into her vagina. The stench was similar. An abortion at an advanced stage of pregnancy had landed her into this grave situation. Her past redeemed her present with a major chunk of her bowel. Better antibiotics and safer surgical technique saved her life; but seriously, was that all that had changed?

It’s ironical that a country where women have no reproductive rights was destined to be known for the ‘Taj Mahal’ – a majestic monument breathes the story of a queen losing her life at the altar of thirteenth childbirth. After 70 years of independence, a staggeringly high maternal mortality rate and gender-skewed statistics are a blot on our national pride.

The number of unmarried girls popping the abortion pill which are easily procured, away from the knowing eyes of the parents, is alarming. It’s a stark reminder of the changing morality and social values. Yet there are repercussions, that are sadly, borne only by them.

I recall an instance when an unmarried girl in Delhi got a secret termination of pregnancy from a quack. She felt relieved. The pregnancy, however, continued, and she, unaware, landed up with a life-threatening complication later. Her ‘live-in-partner’ carried an unconscious girl in his arms to the hospital, not ready to accept her pregnancy or more importantly, his role in it. If only we realised that freedom and modernity is not only about looks, dresses and relationships, but the thoughts and essence that we carry as assertive and self-respecting women.

Interestingly, teenage pregnancy is one of the few issues that connect the East with the West. While in a developing country like India, early marriages and traditional gender roles are to be blamed, in the developed nations, maximum teenage pregnancies occur out of unplanned sexual activities – an issue which is gradually gripping the Indian urban teenagers as well. Yet they contrast heavily with the indifference meted out to the girls in India, who just end up either as a status on media updates or a poor statistics in the national registers of our country.

The societal control on women’s sexuality, lack of comprehensive sex education, poor access to contraceptive services by adolescents and youth are some of the reasons for this unprecedented rise.

A major deficiency lies in the Indian families where discussions on sexual issues are a taboo. High fertility and discontinued education after marriage, marriage as prevention to sexual assaults remain other major concerns.

An early marriage inevitably puts the adolescent girls at the risk of being pregnant. The greatest threat of teenage pregnancy is higher rate of pregnancy-related complications. Anaemia , hypertension, hemorrhage and unsafe abortions leading the list .

The vicious cycle of malnutrition, sexually transmitted infections (STI) , cervical cancers and the psychological manifestations are worrisome creases on the national health front.

Young women and female adolescents are more susceptible to STIs compared to their male counterparts because of their biological characteristics.

A  report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that young people aged 15-24 years develop half of all new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and 1 in 4 sexually active adolescent females has an STI.

As per a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report released in 2013, about 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth to children. In the period between 2000 and 2013, India topped the chart of 10 countries with the largest numbers of women aged between 20 and 24 who gave birth before the age of 18.

“India will retain the biggest national adolescent girl population, with hardly any net change from 2010 to 2030 (93 million to 95 million),” UNFPA predicted.

A prime time television show ‘Pehredaar Piya Ki’ blatantly showed an 11-year-old boy marrying a much older woman. A reverse gender role doesn’t justify child marriage. The high TRPs of the show and the reluctance in banning the controversial show reflect a dangerous trend. The serial, after much hue and cry, thankfully went off air last month.

In another case, a teenager dreamt about a prince but ended up getting married to a much older man. She finally died giving birth when she was only 15-year old – an episode entirely contrary to the Cinderella story.

We need awareness drives for waking up our society from a scary limbo of ignoring and forgetting this steady and silent epidemic. Let’s wake up before our future gets sacrificed at the altar of giving birth. To deliver another future, let the present breathe.

– Tripti Sharan is a practicing gynaecologist from New Delhi and a writer in her moments of introspection. Her recent book ‘Chronicles Of A Gynaecologist’ is inspired from real life experiences.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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