|Nina (not her real name)|
Like many other young girls who become pregnant at a young age, getting married seemed to be the only way out for Nina to avoid the shame of early pregnancy.
Teresa (16), a former school girl from Manatuto, had a similar experience. When she was in grade 3 at Senior High School, she was forced to drop out of school because she was pregnant. Accompanied by her mother, Teresa shares her experiences with a shaky voice, “When I realised that I was pregnant, I was frustrated and thought to commit suicide. Now I just stay at home with my son who is five months old. My mother is always with me in every circumstance.”
Teresa met a 20 year old man who was from the capital Dili in a social gathering. “I used to go out with the man. After five months I found I was pregnant, my boyfriend disappeared as he came to know. Suddenly we couldn’t reach him, we didn’t know where he was, where his family is, and we don’t even know his full name,” said Teresa. “We tried to report to the police, but we don’t know where the man is now,” Teresa’s mother added.
"’My family is embarrassed by me but they always supported me during my pregnancy, until now,” Nina said. “As parents we are stressed, but we have to support her, and we will support her to continue her study,” said Teresa’s mother.
Early marriage impacts the lives of adolescents
The consequences of having unprotected sexual intercourse and getting married at an early age are well-known, but Nina nor Teresa were not aware. Often, child marriage and becoming pregnant at an early age can have a negative impact on a girl’s health, sometimes leading to death as the girl’s body is not yet ready for childbearing and giving birth.
Usually, in Timor-Leste, a child who marries at an early age is often forced to stop her schooling, as domestic chores and the arrival of a child makes it difficult for her to attend school. Child marriage also often contributes to domestic violence, due to immaturity and various problems faced by young couples.
|Teresa (not her real name)|
Life skills training is helping adolescents how to manage their life
Ursula Ramos Sousa (17), an active Youth Parliament Member, said that the lack of information on reproductive health for adolescents and early marriage has very significant impact on her peers.
“As a member of the Youth Parliament we received training on reproductive health, Life Skills Based Education and others issues. Unfortunately not all of my peers have had the opportunity to attend these training sessions,” said Ursula Ramos Sousa.
This year, Ursula and other members of the Youth Parliament of Manatuto municipality conducted training on sexual and reproductive health, early marriage and Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) for the adolescents. The Secretariat of State for Youth and Sports (SSYS) has been conducting the LSBE programmes since 2009, with UNICEF support.
Over the years, the LSBE training programme has reached over 5,000 young people in schools and over 12,000 young people who were out of school. Topics include self-awareness, communication and relations, decision making and problem solving, coping with emotions, growing up, alcohol, drugs and substance use, STI and HIV/AIDS. Over the years, the LSBE programme has taught young people to express themselves and to say ‘no’ when they are asked to do things that violate their rights. It has helped thousands of young people to become confident and responsible citizens.
“LSBE training was very useful for us as teenagers. The training helped me to get new skills and information on how to manage my life. I hope the LSBE training will continue to reach more adolescents so that early pregnancy and early marriage can be reduced in Timor-Leste,” said Ursula.
(The names of the children in this story (Nina, Teresa and Rico) are not their real names, to protect their identify).
By Andreza E. Maria Guterres, Youth & Adolescents Development Officer