Background situation on teenage mothers - Part 2

The Health Development Agency Report (2003) also shows the disadvantages encountered by the children of teenage parents such as a lower than average birth weight, higher rates of infant mortality, lower levels of breastfeeding, higher risks of poverty, poor housing and inadequate nutrition, partly as a result of being more likely to live in a lone-parent households. Daughters of teenage mothers also have a higher risk of becoming teenage mothers themselves. A report by Bradshaw on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (University of York, 2006) confirms these trends.

Similar conclusions were drawn from a case study of teenage childbearing in Sweden which has one of the lowest rates of teenage parenthood in Europe. The report observes that teenage mothers face a higher risk of socioeconomic disadvantage in adulthood in terms of employment, living arrangements, number of children and dependence on welfare. Teenage mothers are set to encounter such difficulties even if they do not hail from working class backgrounds and if they continued studying beyond elementary school (Guttmacher Institute, 2001).

In Malta, teenage parents appear to encounter similar problems although recently the stigma attached to teenage parenthood is not as strong as it was in the past and teenage parents tend to find the support of their family (Cutajar, 2006). Cutajar’s research indicates a number of disadvantages that single mothers tend to encounter, even more than single fathers. Many single mothers, especially teenage mothers, tend to interrupt their education, especially if they attend area secondary schools and consequently end up with little or no qualifications. However it was noted that this also depends on the mothers’ inclination towards education and on the obstacles they are likely to encounter. They are more likely to be in part-time employment and in low-paying jobs. Especially if they live in rented accommodation they tend to be at a greater risk of poverty and social exclusion (Cutajar, 2006). Regardless of age, however single parents in Malta are the highest category experiencing poverty (54%) according to the latest survey on income and living conditions (NSO, 2009c).

Teenage parenthood tends to defy the normative view of young people’s gradual progression into adulthood. It tends to shatter the view of teenagers as studying, having fun and being sexually inactive until they become adults. This view may lead to social structures such as families, educational systems and welfare agencies to deal inadequately with the issue and to continue relegating teenage parents to the margins of society (Lesko, 2001), thus depriving them of opportunities which may make it easier for them to fulfill their personal and social aspirations. Perhaps more importantly educational and social policies are not adequately geared to prevent the predicament of teenage parents in the first place by providing them with such sound and comprehensive sex education which has proved successful in countries such as Sweden (Guttmacher Institute, 2001).