The case of Juliana* is a special one: At the age of 17 she gave birth to three children from two different men. The teenage girl left school during her pregnancy with Chantal*, her first born, who will turn three next week.
While rarely seen as a problem in African states, teenage pregnancy in Europe is constantly reaching an increasingly high level. What often seems as an unwilling circumstance, Austria’s youth finds itself in the process of social integration due to early motherhood. The more children you have, the more you will be sponsored by the government. If you are “lucky” enough to be under the age of 18 without further education, or under 27 if you have commenced a study programme, you will receive sponsored funding for yourself as well as for your dependents.
When children have children in a welfare state like Austria, their future seems secure – but only until the children’s age of independence is reached. Juliana receives nearly € 2,000 per month – more than most average working families – consisting of income support, family allowance and permanent alimony from the two 27- and 35-year-old fathers who refuse to see their children. Juliana’s single mother Lisbeth* quit her job in order to take care of her grandchildren while her daughter seldomly stays in the house. The mother of three has a new boyfriend and seems to happily enjoy her youth. “The shocking truth is that I would rather have her in living with me her entire life than knowing she is having unprotected sex again with older men,” Lisbeth said.
The African view on early motherhood varies, but teenage pregnancy is considered proof of fertility. Depending on the social environment, the receiving of a baby regardless of the mother’s age is a blessing for the young married woman. Pregnancy out of wedlock is usually acknowledged by the father and marriage follows. In most cases, an unmarried woman is worthless; therefore teen pregnancies will often be accompanied by an arranged marriage at the mother’s very early age. By having a baby from a father who will be the future husband, the woman is accepted in society, even if the pregnancy resulted from forced intercourse. Many African women are driven to marry the rapist in order to survive in society.
Another dark side of teenage pregnancy is the childbirth itself. Most Afar women in the Ethiopian Danakil desert regions have gone through circumcision at a very early age. When giving birth to a child, their tribal elders will cut open the private parts to allow the baby to exit the mother’s womb before the legs are tied up to allow healing. The woman’s gaping wound will not be sewn together, but the tie-up should help recreate a normal appearance.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the risk of death following pregnancy is twice as high for women between 15 and 19 years than for those between the ages of 20 and 24. The maternal mortality rate can be up to five times higher for girls aged between ten and 14 than for women of about twenty years of age.
(* = names changed)
Author: Kerstin Tschernigg, One Word Changes
Picture taken from: flickr.com/photos/o5com/5118813698/ under the Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License, by user: o5com