Category Archives: Teenage Pregnancy

‘You’re grown now’: Sex work in Samaná

Samaná, a cruise ship port town on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, draws ­thousands of tourists to the island each year. Colorful sarongs, postcards, and Dominican paintings fill souvenir shops along the main road. The locals can lead you to authentic restaurants, idyllic beaches, and, if you can spare a few pesos, girls of all ages.

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“This place is a man’s paradise,” said one tourist. “These girls just love to have sex.”

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Berenice, Yolei and Chabeli – best friends, mothers and sex workers –  will do whatever it takes to feed their children. So in the town of Samaná, where job opportunities are limited, the three women sell their bodies for money.  

Jan. 6 was Dia de los Reyes, a national holiday for Dominicans. To celebrate, the girls packed their bags with bikinis, snacks and orange soda, and headed to the beach with their children.

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With polka dots on her shirt and a light blue bow in her hair, Chabeli looked more like a child than a mother.  The 15-year-old was 13  when she told her parents she was pregnant. She was given three days to pack her things, leave the house and find her own way.

But Berenise, 23, has been a sex worker for almost 10 years. With two children, ages 11 and 4, she knows what it takes to support a family through sex work. She has taken the responsibility of teaching Yolei and Chabeli their lifestyle leaves little time for fun and games.

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“No eres tan pequeña, eres grande ya,” Berenise said to Chabeli at the beach.

“You’re not little anymore, you’re grown now.”

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Rosemary

With her two-year-old crawling on the table, her kid brother coloring underneath, her grandmother yelling to help her in the kitchen and her infant daughter crying for milk, Rosemary just breathes. She has to take some time to sit amongst the chaos.

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Rosemary is 15 years old and cares for her own two children, her siblings, cousins, neighbor children and her grandmother everyday.

Rosemary was 13 when she had her first child. Her mother was 13 when she had her first child. Her grandmother was 12 when she had her first child.

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In the Dominican Republic, teenage pregnancy rates are among the highest in the world. Many people don’t see it as a problem because it is so common, but most agree it needs a solution. Generations of young girls are dropping out of school and working low-paying jobs. They are taking care of the children they have while they are still children.

Rosemary with Vitali, 2 months

Rosemary says she was the first in her group of friends to become pregnant. So now she doesn’t have time to be a typical 15-year-old girl. She wishes she could still sing with the other girls and roam carefree around the neighborhood all day. She knows it will be a long time before she has the freedom to be a kid again.

--Anna

Day-to-Day: teenage pregnancy in the Dominican Republic

Maribel with her four children and others in the rural area. She first got pregnant at 14 years old.

Every mother I’ve met so far has said she is happy to be pregnant or to have children of her own. All of them were between 14 and 16 years old when they first got pregnant. When asked what they had planned or wanted for their own or their children’s futures, none had a concrete answer. These girls live day-to-day, without regard for the long-term.

Yaiva, 17, and her daughter Ashie, 1

Yaiva, 17, and her daughter Ashie, 1

The Dominican Republic has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Latin America, with almost 30 percent of teenage girls becoming pregnant.

Dariela, 16, 4 months pregnant, and Luz, 17, 6 months pregnant and already has a daughter, Leanny, 1

A maternity counselor I spoke with said these girls are hoping for a way out of their own family’s poverty. They find a boy who promises to feed and shelter them, so they have children as a way to stay with him and have something, or someone, of their own.

Yokaira, 16, her mother Yocasti, 34,  holding her granddaughter Yocarlin Michell Pujos Munoz, 4 months

The grandparents of these new babies usually are indifferent to the situation because they were teenagers as well when they first had children, the counselor said. A cycle of poverty perpetually leaves girls out of school and out of work.

Yabreisiaria is 8 months pregnant. She says she is fifteen, but older women in the neighborhood argue that she is lying and that she is actually 12 or 13.–Anna Reed