This week, a “Back to School” window display in a central Caracas mall caused widespread offence with the portrayal of three heavily pregnant schoolgirls between the ages of 12 and 15 in uniform, as a campaign kicked off to raise awareness of the high rate of teen pregnancies.
Although Venezuela is no stranger to mannequin-mayhem, with Eliezer Álvarez’s “overly voluptuous” and pornographically proportioned models causing sensation last year amidst the country’s rising obsession with plastic surgery, it seems today shoppers are more offended by bulging bellies than outsize breasts.
The display, which has been attacked as “horrible”, “ugly”, and non-PG is nevertheless representative of a disturbingly large sector of Venezuelan society. With an adolescent pregnancy rate of 23 percent, Venezuela can boast the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the continent, falling behind only Nicaragua and Honduras. Although Argentina lags behind with only 20,000 underage pregnancies a day, an average of 200 of these die from complications.
Fundanas and Construyendo Futuros, the two children’s charities behind this crusade, seem pleased with their handiwork and are hoping that their shock tactics will elicit a discussion which could result in improved sex education, reproductive rights and increased respect for Venezuelan schoolgirls.
Despite a 2010 UN report expressing a “deep anxiety” over the teen pregnancy and mother mortality rates, the Venezuelan government claims to have made significant improvements over its fifteen years in power. Nevertheless, pregnant teens and frequently spotted wandering around the streets of Caracas and the subject remains clouded in taboo and prim propriety.
Underage pregnancy today is a major cause of health problems in Latin America among mothers and children alike, ranging from anemia, asphyxia, depression – oh, and let’s not forget: death. Unlike in its smaller neighbors Guyana and French Guinea, abortion is illegal in Venezuela.
In Argentina, abortion laws are also still heavily restrictive, despite an estimated annual average of up to 500,000 “underground” procedures, the majority affecting young girls from poor backgrounds. Uruguay shared similar statistics until legalization in 2011 virtually eliminated the mortality rate caused by unsafe pregnancies.
The issue, which was scheduled for discussion earlier this month, was postponed after Patricia Bullrich, the committee head, got cold feet and cancelled the meeting at the eleventh hour with virtually no explanation.
Despite hostility from the more squeamish of shoppers, the Caracas shopping display is scheduled to run on till January, and may even be expanded to other malls across the region.
(Featured photo via Reuters)