'Teen pregnancy is an adult problem'
NEW YORK, 15 April (UNFPA) -- "Teenage pregnancy is an adult problem -- it is caused by adults and must be solved by adults, " according to Jane Fonda of the Georgia Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.
Ms. Fonda was the featured speaker at day two of the round-table meeting on "All Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Assessing the Impact of ICPD". She spoke of her work to prevent teenage pregnancy in the United States by applying the lessons she learned from the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994, an event that affected her thinking profoundly.
The round table, sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the first in a series of international events connected with a five-year review of progress made in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action. UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Nafis Sadik introduced Ms. Fonda, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for the fund.
Among the lessons of Cairo that apply nib Georgia Ms. Fonda said, is "the need for fathers, whether married or not, to be involved with their children." She said the same lesson was stressed by the "Million-Man March" that was held a few years ago by African-American Men in Washington, D.C. "When the father is engaged through the sons, the performance of the children improves in school."
Another Cairo lesson, which she learned by listening to women from developing countries, is that women's roles and status improved with education. This is relevant in the state Georgia where poverty is widespread and which has the country's highest rates of teenage pregnancy.
Ms. Fonda identified five basic causes of teenage pregnancies. The first is poverty: about 80 percent of pregnant teens come from poor families. Next is sexual abuse, which must be stopped: "a girl who has been abused early in life will lose the sense of her value later on." School failure is another cause; it leads children to lose faith in themselves. The fourth reason is a lack of good parenting; on this both advocates of adolescent reproductive health and social conservatives could agree, she said. The fifth cause is a lack of reproductive health services for adolescents.
While sexual abstinence should be encouraged, Ms. Fonda said, adequate reproductive health services should be provided to those who do not abstain.
To address the problems faced by adolescents, the capital Georgia Campaign organises training for social workers and parents, as well as undertaking advocacy efforts. Despite attacks from the Right, her campaign has popular support and has had a real impact on the lives of the young. "Georgians agree with our approach, " she said. "They want to emphasise abstinence, but they also want their children to know how to protect themselves."
"The most controversial part of what any of us do is talking about family planning, " Ms. Fonda acknowledged. She said that family planning centres should listen to the adolescents who come for services, and that counselling should be mandatory. "We believe children should not receive exams or birth control unless we have time to talk to them."
Clinics should also encourage the young to talk to their parents, she continued. Her organization provides videos to teach parents how to talk to sexually active teenagers, and has taken its messages about parent training and services for adolescents to churches, synagogues and community centres.
Speaking of critics who charge that the teenage pregnancy prevention campaign promotes promiscuity and abortion, she asked, "When will they learn that the work we do is about preventing abortion?"
"You're not going to reduce teen pregnancy if you're not working in youth and community development," Ms. Fonda stressed. The various community groups that work with teenagers should be brought together to complement each other's efforts. Adequate and value-free sexual education should be combined with efforts to teach young people to become employable. Preventing unwanted teenage pregnancies requires a holistic approach, she said. "It cannot be just a medical paradigm."
Responding to a question on how to combat the negative messages children receive from the media, she said parents should become better role models for their children, and improvements need to be made in young people's lives.
In response to another question, about me in poor communities who cannot provide for their families, she said efforts were needed to improve their self-esteem to ensure family cohesion. "They should be made to feel wanted or loved and welcome in the house even if they don't bring in paychecks."