Girls and women need to know that they have choices and not knowing is very unfair on them, 15-year-old Jai Narayan College fourth former Zara Dean said passionately after participating in the launch of the United Nations Population Fund flagship publication the State of World Population 2013 Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy.
"I find that very unfair in the sense that they can make a different choice instead of making the choice that they have made and they can prevent all the sufferings that they might be going through," she said.
"Women can make different choices to affect the future in a better, positive way and if they don't make those positive choices, it affects everyone, the nation, the society, the parents themselves and the children so if they make the right choices it will create a more positive effect on everyone."
Dean who was one of 30 students representing their schools at the launch spoke of peer pressure and the need for education components which would empower girls to make the "right choices".
The report which was launched in Suva on November 1 states that every day, 20,000 girls below age 18 give birth in developing countries. Nine in 10 of these births occur within marriage or a union emphasising the issue of early and sometimes child marriages. Girls under 15 account for two million of the annual total of 7.3 million new adolescent mothers. If nothing is done to address the threats posed by such trends, the report warns the number of births to girls under 15 could rise to three million a year in 2030.
Pauliasi Makutu Volau, also a fourth former was horrified by the statistics. "The fact that the statistical figures of the girls that are giving birth under the age of 18 and 15, that's just an alarming rate so it helps us to be informed, gives us more awareness about our decision-making, to make wiser decisions," he said.
"Most men and boys they don't really participate in family planning. We boys should really stand up for the girls and also consider ourselves in family planning."
Fiji Broadcasting Corporation radio and television personalities Serafina Wedlock and Peceli Rokotuivuna attended the launch as young people interested in the impact adolescent pregnancy has on societies as a whole, which both agree would eventually be reflected at national level as the majority of girls and young women in our communities were still deprived of the enabling environment to fulfil their full potential.
"I definitely believe faith-based organisations and ecumenical institutions need to all address the issue of teenage pregnancy in its entirety â€¦I'm speaking as an iTaukei man, brother, father and son," Rokotuivuna said.
"I'm looking at how we as a traditional iTaukei community are organised, our faiths are very important to Pacific communities and families and that's why they need to start addressing this because it affects our homes and when it affects our homes it will affect also the way our relationship are within this community," he said.
"And the role of men, obviously this is just as important, how the attitude of young boys, how we bring them up, and how they see older men as role models. "These attitudes need to change and I believe that can change with the help, with a lot of help from faith-based organisations especially, regardless of beliefs."
Before the launch of the State of World Population report, Bishop Reverend Dr Winston Halapua said during his prayer: "May the teenage mothers know dignity and compassion; that she may be loved, understood and blessed."
Wedlock said the role women, particularly mothers, played in the response to the impact of the high rate of adolescent pregnancy could not be over-emphasised. Critical is a progressive child-rearing approach which could consider 'unlearning' children of potentially harmful or negative cultural practices.
"I think it's important that we women educate our kids, our children, our younger siblings: we're examples and we should be leading by example — first of all, learning ourselves, educating ourselves, empowering ourselves, only then can we be living examples to the younger ones," she said.
Youth advocate Paulini Turagabeci emphasised the global and regional statistics on adolescent pregnancy rates were more than just numbers. "They reveal the realities that a gross number of adolescent girls live in," Turagabeci said.
In a publication compiled from online dialogue discussions by the Pacific Young Women's Leadership Alliance (PYWLA), Turagabeci shared that young women highlighted that government and development agencies must strengthen access to information and services on family planning to better address teenage pregnancies in the Pacific.
"The high rates of teenage and unplanned pregnancies and low contraceptive prevalence rates re-affirm the need to re - examine the way sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services are delivered to young people in the Pacific," she said. Turagabeci said our national response did not need to reinvent the wheel.
"Governments do not need to construct a whole host of service centres (we) recommend that SRHR be added to existing facilities by providing services that are youth friendly and training service providers who can offer counseling, maintain confidentiality, address the fears that young people might have and provide information about various forms of contraception in a professional manner," she said.
UNFPA Pacific director and representative Dr Laurent Zessler said the Pacific Sub-Regional Office, which worked across the region, intended to accelerate actions to address adolescent pregnancy in the region.
"The UNFPA Pacific office would like to be practically involved with governments for actions that will lead to progress and change in the region," Dr Zessler said.
"It is imperative that we begin with providing an enabling environment for those who have been prevented from accessing higher education because of circumstances like adolescent motherhood, circumstances that we as society allow because of entrenched attitudes and cultural norms.
"We are not merely talking anymore about young people or teenage mothers; we are talking about the potential of this region's human resources; we as Pacific individuals, families, communities and countries can benefit so much more from women's take on our socio-economic realities.
"Practically, we are talking about innovative approaches to agriculture, to fisheries and the other sectors where women, whose contribution are complementry to their male counterparts, can be involved in through their analysis and the formulation of appropriate solutions."
* Ariela Zibiah is the communications officer at UNFPA. The views expressed are not of this newspaper.