A mother at 12
At 10 am, when other children her age are at school, 12-year-old Seema Kumar (name changed) is taking lessons of a different kind, how to breast-feed a three-day-old baby. Shocked? But experts say they have come across pregnant girls who’re even younger. Namita Kohli elaborates.india Updated: May 02, 2009 22:27 IST
At 10 am, when other children her age are at school, 12-year-old Seema Kumar (name changed) is taking lessons of a different kind — how to breast-feed a three-day-old baby. “I don’t know how this happened. My brother said it was just gas in the stomach,” says Seema who works as a ragpicker and earns “Rs 200-300 everyday”. Seema, who came to Jaipur 11 years ago from Mansur village in Madhya Pradesh, delivered a girl child on the streets this week. She was admitted to the Mahila Chikitsalaya for two days before being sent off to Shishu Greh, a home for abandoned children. “I was only staying with Raju, also a ragpicker, from Bihar. We were not married, and now he has run away,” says Seema.
“The delivery happened on the footpath early on Wednesday,” says Dr B.S. Meena of the Mahila Chikitsalaya in Jaipur. “Such is the lack of awareness that the child didn’t even realise her waters had broken. A passerby noticed her with an infant still connected to her body and called an ambulance. A compounder cut off the umbilical cord before getting the girl to the hospital. It’s quite a miracle that she and the child survived.” Seema’s father Hiralal, say hospital staff, is “mentally ill” and has registered a case of rape after “denying the pregnancy” for two days.
Seema is perhaps one of the youngest mothers in a country where 12 per cent of women report having their first child at 15 to 19 years, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS III), 2005-06. The NFHS data is silent on pregnancies below 15, but doctors at the Mahila Chikitsalaya say such cases are not are. “We have seen pregnancies in girls as young as eight or nine years. They don’t even realise they are pregnant before coming to the hospital. Many go unnoticed since they never report to the hospital and get illegal abortions done,” says Dr Vimla Jain, superintendent of Mahila Chikitsalaya. Girls have almost “no idea” about sexual abuse, contraception or unsafe sex. “Recently, a girl in class six got pregnant after an older neighbour abused her; she thought he was only playing with her. Families are often shocked at discovering the pregnancy,” says Meena.
Experts say that this is possible due to the early onset of puberty and lack of adequate sex education. “Trends in medical science show that the onset of puberty is steadily advancing. For girls it is 9-11 years, and for boys, 11-13 years. The gap between the onset of puberty and the legal age of marriage has widened making this population vulnerable,” says Dr Sunil Mehra, executive director of Mamta Health Institute for Mother and Child, an NGO that works on adolescent reproductive and sexual health in Delhi. “Besides school children, those out on the street and railway platforms also need to be educated to prevent abuse.”
Ask Seema how she got pregnant and she’s unable to answer. “I don’t know, my mother died when I was a year old. I have never been to a school,” she says. The accidental mother is unclear about her future, and that of her child. “I don’t know what will I do with this. Maybe I will give it to my sister in the village, or to an ashram. When she is older she can come and pick garbage with me.”