180 unwed mothers including 92 minors delivered babies this year, Pune report

Updated: Dec 21, 2017, 22:00 IST | Chaitraly Deshmukh | Pune

According to a report released by the Sassoon General Hospitals, only in Pune, around 180 unwed mothers, including 92 minor girls, delivered babies this year

In an advisory to all TV channels on December 11, the I&B ministry asked them to restrict airing of condom advertisements to slots between 10 pm and 6 am, as these "could be indecent or inappropriate for viewing by children". While the Rajasthan High Court has issued a notice to the seeking to know the reasons behind its decision, it seems the government is ill informed about the state of teenage pregnancies in the country. According to a report released by the Sassoon General Hospitals, only in Pune, around 180 unwed mothers, including 92 minor girls, delivered babies this year. While the government wrestles with corporates to impress its mandate pertaining to one of the most popular forms of contraception, most of these unwed mothers claim they were not even aware of abortion rights.

According to some NGOs, these unwed mothers often enroll with government hospitals to procure medical aid through the nine-month term. Representation Pics/ AFP
According to some NGOs, these unwed mothers often enroll with government hospitals to procure medical aid through the nine-month term. Representation Pics/ AFP

According to Sassoon report, most unwed mothers were in the age group of 22 to 30, while girls between 14 to 17 years of age constitute the teenage pregnancy segment. Last year, 113 unwed mothers, including 42 minors, delivered babies, while in 2015, there were 25 minors among 95 cases of pregnancy out of wedlock.

According to some NGOs, these unwed mothers often enroll with government hospital with their help to procure medical aid through the 9-month term. Following the delivery, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) lets the mother decide if she wants to take care of the baby or hand it over to the NGOs. If she chooses the latter option, the NGO searches for a new home for the baby.
Abortion is considered legal in India if the pregnancy is due to rape or if is likely to be threat to the life of the woman or the minor who conceives it. As per the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, abortions are legal till 20 weeks.

Speaking to mid-day, a city-based unmarried software techie, 22, said, "My boyfriend, who also happened to be my former boss, left me in the lurch. I was already 21 weeks pregnant by the time I realised I had conceived. I wasn't even aware of abortion laws in the country and, therefore, I was afraid to go through it. I delivered in November, but I am still clueless about how to take care of the baby."

The grim situation
Dr Ajay Chandanwale, dean of Sassoon Hospital, said, "In most cases, the unwed come to us when it's already too late to terminate the pregnancy. Women from all strata of the society are prone to unwanted pregnancies. The minors are often given the provision to lodge a case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence (POCSO) Act, but in most cases, they choose to keep the father's identity a secret."

Best recourse
Dr Ramesh Bhosale, gynecology department chief at Sassoon Hospital said, "Women or minor girls should avoid delaying the doctor visit once their menstruation cycle becomes irregular. Also, under mothers are prone to trying "self medication" or "traditional" methods of terminating a pregnancy, which is highly risky to the mother as well as the baby. We have a special team, consisting of psychiatrists, to monitor such cases, so women and girls shouldn't think twice before seeking legal medical help."

According to some NGOs, these unwed mothers often enroll with government hospitals to procure medical aid through the nine-month term. Representation Pics/ AFP
According to some NGOs, these unwed mothers often enroll with government hospitals to procure medical aid through the nine-month term. Representation Pics/ AFP

Echoing similar views, Dr AL Sharada, director of the NGO Population First, said, "Though teen pregnancies has reduced to half from 2005-2016 to 2015-2016 as per the National Family Health Survey, around 7.9 percent conceive when they are not ready for motherhood. In our country, the lack of awareness is such that many girls do not know that they could get pregnant by indulging in sex."

Dr Sharada further said that some of the minors didn't realise they were pregnant till the baby bump starts showing. "Sex education is almost a myth in the country, but the society is happy to ridicule teenage mothers. No contraceptive counseling is available anywhere and no condom vending machines are around, where it's required. Sexual exploitation is rampant. There's zero knowledge about abortion rights. The government should work on these factors before imposing random diktaks," Dr Sharada said.

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VS Chandrashekar, FRHS India (Pratigya Secreteriat)
"When it comes to seeking abortions un married adolescents unfortunately end up in a very difficult situation. Fear of stigma and judgemental attitudes prevents them from seeking information and care earlier. Often it’s quite late by the time they realise they are pregnant. This then leaves them with a choice of seeking unsafe care or knocking the doors of the courts, both not in their best interest. Seeking legal recourse involves putting themselves in media glare and having to present themselves in front of medical panels. Given the unique situation of unmarried adolescents who are pregnant and want a termination, there is a need to formulate policies and guidance that can make it easier for them to seek a safe abortion. There is a need to amend the MTP Act to increase the gestation limits for abortion to 24 weeks; removing the current need for two abortion providers opinion for abortion over 12 weeks gestation; including contraception failure for unmarried women as an indication for abortion and expanding the provider base to include trained AYUSH doctors and Nurses as providers of abortion for first trimester abortions. Making these changes will make a big difference not only unmarried adolescent girls but also to other vulnerable women - single, widowed, differently abled, survivors of rape and incest. These measures are already in the proposed amendments to the MTP Act and its high time the amendments are passed. The increase in gestation limits to 24 weeks is in fact a recommendation from the National Commission for Women."

He added,"On a broader note, there is an urgent need to ensure that adolescents have access to information on reproduction, sexuality and contraception, so that they are better prepared. Unfortunately this is a sensitive issue and never gets addressed impacting young people's lives adversely."

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