Teenage motherhood and pregnancy rob children of their education, health, long-term aspirations, but most importantly of their childhood
Teenage pregnancy/motherhood is a significant cause of concern not only for Turkey but for all countries around the world. Yet, instead of excluding, labeling or defining young people with definitions that will lead to prejudices against young people falling into this category, Western civilizations have come up with terms such as "teenage pregnancy" and "teenage motherhood." The use of terms like "child pregnancy" or "child motherhood" is very rare. This is despite the fact that all Western countries are in agreement with the universal definition of children, which is, anyone under the age of 18 and the fact that most teenage mums or pregnancies in the West are under this age.
Below are some statistics from different countries in relation to teenage pregnancies, in other words, child pregnancies.
According to the data of the Office for National Statistics, "in the United Kingdom the estimated number of conceptions to girls under 18 fell to 22,653 in 2014 compared with 24,306 in 2013, a decrease of 6.8%. Again an estimated 4,160 girls under 16 got pregnant in 2014, compared with 4,648 in 2013, a fall of 10%." According to different data, the overall number of underage (under 16) conceptions were at 7,900 in 2009 in the United Kingdom.
In the U.S., the number of teenage pregnancies is much higher. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, a total of 249,078 babies were born to women aged 15-19 years, for a birth rate of 24.2 per 1,000 women in this age group.
In Canada the issue appears to be more significant. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of teenage pregnancies (15-19) were at 30,534 in 2005 while 414 girls got pregnant before the age of 15. Another data reveals that the number of live births in 2013 among the age group from 15 to 19 were at 11,645.
As for Spain, the number of young people aged 15-19 having babies in 2010 were over 365,000. With respect to Germany although the number is significantly lower than other countries it is still a cause of concern. According to the Office for Statistics, the number of pregnancies under the age of 15 were 337 in 2015 while the number of pregnancies among young people aged 15-18 was 2,970.
This shows that the issue is not peculiar to Turkey. Yet when it comes to Muslim countries it is not terms like "teenage pregnancy" or "motherhood" but the terms of "child marriage" or "child brides" that are being used. We cannot blame the Western world for adapting such repulsive definitions when it comes to Muslim societies because it is us who are unable to sieve through the differences of our own society in comparison to those in Western societies when introducing new laws and explaining to the World our socio-cultural realities.
It is a fact that as part of adolescent development sexuality is experienced at very young ages in the Western world. In other words, as can be seen from the above statistics, a considerable number of teenagers become sexually active from very early ages and as a result, teenage pregnancy and motherhood continues to remain a significant cause of concern for every country. Teenagers, who, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are still defined as children, do not have to be married in the West when choosing to have sex with their peers.
Contrary to the culture in the West, in countries like Turkey where the society remains largely conservative, sexuality is very largely only permissible through marriage. In other words, the sexuality that teenagers experience in the West from very young ages is not viable in societies like Turkey. So, what is permissible in the West without marriage is not permissible in the Muslim world unless through marriage. It is only permissible for a small minority in countries like Turkey – especially those who have been distorting the recent bill regarding child abuse and who are completely out of touch of some problematic socio-cultural realities of the society in Turkey – if it is without marriage and a child is not in question.
Yet when the legislation was made to define what constitutes child abuse, these realities have been completely disregarded. As a result, a teenager who is leading a happy partnership with another teenager subsequently ends up being a teenage mum or dad and is facing custodial sentences. Since the law has been implemented retrospectively there has been a number of now adult dads who are in prison due to violating a law they were not aware of when they entered into a relationship unofficially. Their wives are consequently left in a destitute situation and many of them have children growing up without their dads and a regular income. Even a number of high court judges have tried to draw the attention of the government to this complicated matter due to the difficulties it is creating for teenage mums, their children and families. With this highly debated bill, the government is trying to address this issue. Yet the issue is being so distorted and it has been broadcasted so wrongly for political gains that people are left with the impression that the government is attempting to clear rapists of child abuse. Certain circles have gone as far as calling these partnerships as "pedophilia" in an attempt to distort the matter.
Unfortunately, here emerges a significant problem of ours, not only in this area but in many areas. We pass laws without paying appropriate consideration to its compliance with our socio-cultural and political realities and its implications on these realities. As a result, we see further social problems and young parents suffering.
Regretfully, since the Muslim world has fallen behind Western civilization in almost every field, it is experiencing a self-denying aspect and as such, it is struggling to come up with anything that derives from the values or realities of their own. This loss of confidence is having repercussions in all spheres of life. It is with regret that the Muslim world is even unable to define itself with its own concepts but it is resorting to concepts that have been inherited from the Western world. This is not because the Muslim world is lacking concepts or sources of information to come up with our own in everything but it is because of the fact that the Muslim world has been in denial or we have been made to deny our sources of information for over a century. Even if this was not true, we have been unable to draw on the achievements of the Western civilization in a way that is compliant with our values or socio-cultural realities. Instead we have inherited and continue to inherit the Western values or legislation concerning every sphere of life verbatim without paying attention to the fact that Western societies' still differs from Muslim societies in many ways.
It is within reason to look at different examples around the world when making legislations in relation to certain issues, however to transfer those in a verbatim manner is indicative of the fact that we are very rarely paying attention to our own socio-cultural realities.The recent heated debates over a bill which attempts to address the sufferings of some young parents should be read in this context. As outlined above, the same issues that are experienced in the West are classed as teenage pregnancy or motherhood while in the East it is called repulsive and odious terms such as child marriage or child bribes. It is important to clarify that neither is favorable, because when broken down, both add up to the same thing. What is being protested here is the fact that when it comes to the East, it is not the terms of teenage motherhood or teenage pregnancy but repulsive terms like child marriages or child brides that are being used whilst young people falling into this category are defined with teenage pregnancy or teenage motherhood in the West.
To finalize, regardless of the use of terms such as "marriage," "motherhood" or "pregnancy," it is a crystal clear fact that teenage motherhood or pregnancy do rob children of their education, health, long-term aspirations but most importantly of their childhood. As such, every effort should be made in Turkey just like any other country to minimize this. Yet when doing this, denying a reality or approaching teenage mothers or fathers with terms such as "pedophilia" would not help to understand and address the issue in an appropriate manner. Additionally, the issue should not be politicized for political gains as it is to do with the welfare of one of the most vulnerable age groups and using it as a political tool will only constitute the political abuse of children.
* Ankara-based analyst
About the author
* Researcher in Media Studies at Westminster University