Nina, a 17-year-old girl in Manatuto municipality, dropped out of school in 2015 because she was pregnant. She stopped going to school until her baby was born. Life has changed a lot since then. She could not continue her study, staying home and taking care of her baby boy, while her husband Rico is continuing his study in a Senior High School in Dili. “Early pregnancy and marriage snatched the beauty of my life,” said Nina.
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 (18), 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. With the support of her loving family; Teresa again enrolled in the school, continue her education. This year she has enrolled at the National University.
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.
Both Nina and Teresa now regret that they got pregnant too early, because of lack of information and knowledge on sexual and reproductive health. “When I suddenly realised that I’m pregnant, I was stressed because I didn’t know how to manage my emotions,” said Teresa.
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.
In 2016, 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 for the first time. The training worked as an avenue for them to connect and share information.
Over the years, the LSBE training programme has reached over 6,000 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.
“For many of the adolescents in Timor-Leste, Life Skills Based Education training is the first exposure where they get an opportunity to talk issues that affecting their lives. By using peer to peer education, the training is able to connect participants more closely, help them to explore various issues related to the life of adolescents,” said Valerie Taton, UNICEF Representative in Timor-Leste.
In partnership with the government, since 2009, more than 18,000 adolescents and young people, both in and out of schools, have benefitted from UNICEF-supported Life Skills Based Education courses, enabling young people to become agents of their own development by teaching them skills to help them deal with everyday challenges.
(The names of the children in this story (Nina, Teresa and Rico) are not their real names, to protect their identify).
Author: Andreza E. Maria Guterres, Youth & Adolescents Development Officer, UNICEF Timor-Leste