In Guatemala, nearly 44 per cent of young women become mothers before the age of 20, with that proportion rising among indigenous communities. Population growth in the Petén region has put a great deal of pressure on this agricultural community, as land becomes increasingly scarce and farmer communities struggle to make a living. In South Petén, as in many other parts of Guatemala, there is no comprehensive sex education at school or access to information about family planning.
The Church’s ban on contraceptive methods coupled with conservative norms has left many girls with no knowledge of how their bodies work. As a result, many young girls end up pregnant. The high rates of rape compound the problem.
Physically and emotionally unprepared, girls who get pregnant are left with the huge responsibility of caring for a child when they are in fact still children themselves.
The stigma and discrimination attached to the issue leave the girls more vulnerable, trapped in a cycle of poverty and dependency.
Asociación AMA (AMA) offers a comprehensive sex education programme in primary schools in order to reduce the high rate of adolescent pregnancies in the region. AMA also seeks to promote access to modern contraceptive methods and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancy.
The organisation conducts training sessions for community leaders, primary school teachers in rural communities and marginalised Q’eqchi Mayan and Ladino urban areas in Southern Petén.
A mentoring scheme exists whereby the skills and knowledge acquired by the members of AMA are then transferred to adolescents in their own communities. Working with the Ministry of Education, AMA also strengthens the skills of teachers on sex education and gender equality.
With areas that are difficult to reach, AMA works on disseminating information through the bilingual Spanish-Q’eqchi radio programme “The ABC of Sexuality” which airs for one hour on a community radio channel that reaches rural areas in their native language.
Photos: Morena Perez Joachin