Condoms vs. the Catholic Church: Bringing Family Planning to Guatemala

Posted by Ann Marie Gardner

Creating Opportunities
 

PBS Newshour has a riveting story on family planning efforts in Guatemala.  Reporter Ray Suarez writes:

The Catholic Church, with its profound, 500-year old roots, and the energetic, emotional worship and deep cultural conservatism, make Guatemala's consideration of family planning a far different one from that of North America or Europe. Abortion is viewed as a terrible sin. Birth control pills, intra-uterine devices and diaphragms are suspected of causing illnesses in the women who use them. Implanted, slow-release contraceptive chemicals are catching on, but they are expensive and provide only limited-duration protection. Condoms are unpopular among men, and discouraged by the Catholic Church, which only advocates natural methods for family planning.

Women often begin having children as teenagers in Guatemala, and continue with regular pregnancies into their 40s. At one mobile clinic I met a mother with eight children ranging in age from 28 years to 16 months.

Guatemala birth rates are 27.4 per 1000 which, according to the CIA World Fact Book, makes it 49th (quite high birth rate) in the world's ranking. But as Suarez traveled across the country, he did begin to discover people who acknowledged that the birth rate was creating problems. 

In an earlier story, PBS Newshour reported:

For girls living in the rural, indigenous communities of Guatemala, it is not unusual to leave school by the age of 12, be married by 15, and give birth for the first time while still a teenager.

But U.S.-based nonprofit Population Council has created Abriendo Oportunidades, or Creating Opportunities, as a support system for Mayan girls that uses mentoring to teach teenage girls about preventing and responding to gender-based violence. The mentors also support girls who want to continue their education and make a living.