Abortion is taboo with healthcare workers, even for adolescent mums

A healthcare worker who did not wish to be named told MaltaToday that the rates for adolescent pregnancies in Malta were high because there is no access to abortion. But it seems there is little concern about the physical implications of a 10-year-old being forced to give birth, instead focusing on the social impacts a young pregnancy would have

Three Maltese adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14 gave birth in 2016, on par with the previous year, Eurostat figures have revealed.

Between 2001 and 2016, a total 55 mothers under the age of 14 gave birth in Malta, with a staggering nine in 2008 alone.

In the vast majority of the cases, the mother was of Maltese nationality.

A healthcare worker who did not wish to be named told MaltaToday that the rates for adolescent pregnancies in Malta were high because there is no access to abortion.

But it seems there is little concern about the physical implications of a 10-year-old being forced to give birth, instead focusing on the social impacts a young pregnancy would have. “First time pregnancies are problematic for both adults and children,” one source, a midwife said, explaining that adolescent mothers are ‘normal’ in other cultures.

An officer in charge of Servizz Ghozza, a support service for pregnant minors, Melanie Bonavia, told MaltaToday that from her experience with young mothers, as well as from research, adolescent mums struggle with a number of issues.

“I believe one of the main challenges around teenage pregnancy involves the difficulty to strike a balance between their needs as adolescents and their responsibility as mothers,” she said, listing financial difficulties, housing arrangements, legal issues, and lack of support from family members as well as abusive relationships with partners as significant problems in these cases.

But when asked whether the support service is aware of any requests for terminations of pregnancy for girls in this age group, or whether they ever get asked for advice, Bonavia was anything but straightforward, instead emphasising that the purpose of the service is to provide “support to young mothers at whatever stage they are in.”

“Young mothers often feel lost and fearful and wonder whether they will be capable to take on such responsibilities given their tender age. Yet still we work with the girls where they are at, we process their fears and anxiety through counselling and try to build a network of support that helps them feel they are not alone in this.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for teenage girls globally.

Adolescent mothers as young as 10 years old are at higher risks of pregnancy disorders and systemic infections than adult mothers, according to the WHO, and although some very young girls can get pregnant, it is understood that they are at high risk of complications due to the fact that their pelvic bones are not yet fully developed.

Last year, international uproar ensued after a 10-year-old girl in India was denied permission to terminate a pregnancy by a court, as she was found to be 26 weeks’ pregnant – above the legal ceiling for abortions in the country.

The number of births per year, on average, by mothers between the age of 10 and 14 in Malta is comparable to countries such as Ireland – which has 10x the population.

The Women’s Rights Foundation told MaltaToday that the high rate of teen pregnancies in Malta is probably due to a lack of access to abortion. “However, this is also affected by the fact that we lack awareness in sex education and access to contraception,” lawyer and chairperson Lara Dimitrijevic said.

“In countries such as Holland where sex education starts from a very young age and there is effective access to contraception, research shows that both the rates of teen pregnancies and abortion rates can be drastically lowered.”

When contacted by this newspaper, a representative of the Malta Midwives Association declined to comment on the matter. A request for comment to the President of the Association was not yet answered by the time this article went to print. A number of social workers also refused to comment on record.

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