Rate of teen pregnancy, sexual violence soaring in Nicaragua

Early pregnancy is one of 6 barriers commonly keeping girls from school. In Nicaragua, where the rates of teen pregnancy are the highest in Latin America, the issue is spiralling out of control.

According to the United Nations, 28% of young women in Nicaragua are giving birth to their first child before the age of 18. Teen pregnancy has detrimental consequences on the development of these young women.

“Girls who become pregnant before they’re 18 lose their childhood,” explains Plan International's Country Director in Nicaragua, Matthew Carlson. “They’re rarely able to exercise their rights to education, health, protection and an adequate quality of life.”

An issue fuelled by widespread violence

Why is this happening? Sexual violence is a major factor contributing to the high rates of pregnancy across the country. In fact, in 2013 alone over 6,000 cases of sexual violence were reported to the police – 88% of the reports came from girls.

“Men are constantly in search of young girls with the hope of having sex with them,” says Dorleni, 17. “Even though girls and women should be protected by their family and the law, the culture of machismo allows them to become victims of rape and sexual violence. It’s seen as the norm and some men feel it’s acceptable to behave this way towards women.”

Children gather around in a classroom.

Nicaraguan children learning what to do if they see or experience violence in their community.

Agents of change

In collaboration with local authorities and community members, Plan International is working across the country to reduce violence and teenage pregnancy through a project that engages girls and boys to promote gender equality in their communities.

As part of the project, youth are encouraged to become Agents of Change. Plan International is training these Agents of Change through workshops that teach the importance of gender equality, girls’ rights and sexual health. Armed with this knowledge, youth can feel comfortable speaking to one another and their parents about ‘taboo’ subjects that affect their lives.

“I have learned how to interact with people and how to express myself,” says Yuma, 15. “I now know what to do if someone is suffering from violence. When I see someone has found happiness with my support, it makes me feel good.”

Learning to seek help from authorities

Plan International has also enlisted the help of the Police Commissioner at the Women’s National Police Station in Puerto Cabezas, Carmen Poveda. Carmen works with victims of sexual violence, because an important part of her job is to protect these young girls and help them escape the cycle of violence.

“Violence has always been present,” explains Carmen. But with projects such as Girl Power, authorities like Carmen can extend their reach. “We’ve introduced mobile counseling and we do door-to-door visits where we tell villagers what to do if an abuse takes place and where to report it.”

Police officer outside of police station

Police Commissioner, Carmen, is going door-to-door to put an end to sexual violence.

Carmen and her crew work closely with Plan International, community leaders and government officials to promote girls’ rights and ensure the rights of victims of sexual violence are met. And they’re seeing results. Victims are increasingly coming into the station to receive help, and young people are reporting violence when it occurs.

When attitudes begin to change, the entire community benefits. Today, Agents of Change and people like Carmen are making lasting change to improve the lives of girls in Nicaragua.

You can help make change, too!