…And don’t die trying: Motherhood should not be part of your childhood.

One of the most devastating consequences of the helplessness of girls in our countries is early motherhood. In Guatemala, for example, the number of pregnancies and births at an early age is staggering. According to one of the institutions dedicated to monitoring this issue – the Observatory on Sexual and Reproductive Health (OSAR) – there were 57,500 seventy-eight pregnancies in girls and adolescents between 10 and 18 years of age during the first half of 2021. Of these, nearly 3,000 were among girls aged 10 to 14. That is, a period in which a girl has not yet fully developed her body and when a pregnancy poses a high risk.

In addition to the violence implicit in rape and its physical and psychological consequences, a pregnancy at this early age means the loss of rights at all levels and subjection to a harsh, restrictive lifestyle, subject to the authority of the adults around her. To this is added the legal prohibition to interrupt the gestation process, even when the child’s body is not able to sustain and carry it to term. In other words, the law condemns the victim on the basis of a vision of law influenced by religious doctrines and a well-established patriarchal system.

Seen as a normal part of life, pregnancy in girls and adolescents is one of the most serious consequences of the marginalisation in which a large part of the female population lives and develops. Besieged by a patriarchal concept of life and duty, thousands of girls end up being sexually abused before they reach puberty, becoming mothers so early in their development that they even lose their lives in the process. Defenceless against the pressure of authoritarianism exerted by fathers, brothers and other men around them, coupled with the lack of protection from the rest of the community, girl-mothers end up exhausting the childhood stage without having lived it, to face the harsh reality of a life of misery.

Faced with this situation, derived from completely flawed cultural patterns, girls are forced to drag the humiliation of an unwanted, unconsented sexuality with serious repercussions for their physical and psychological health, in an environment of disrespect that denies them the right to experience the normal stages of their development.

In these scenarios, girl-mothers do not enter into the priorities of attention of the authorities. They see cases of early pregnancy as an expression of underdevelopment rather than the criminal acts of sexual abuse that they really are. The message sent by this approach to the problem is one of conformism in the face of the subjugation of one of the social groups least taken into account in the public policies of governments.

Those thousands of girls and adolescents whose malnourished and weak bodies can barely carry the weight of their own existence, give birth in miserable conditions, amidst the indifference of the authorities and enduring the rejection of their own families. Such is their life, such is the social environment and such is the result of a culture that condemns them to eternal underdevelopment.

This abuse has been an inveterate habit for generations, deeply ingrained and considered a socially acceptable practice; an unavoidable fate for those who do not yet have the strength or the protection of the law to defend their rights.

Girls deserve to achieve their dreams. Early motherhood is not one of them.