Young mum spurs teen sex debate


The case of Ramona, a 13-year-old mother, has caused a sensation in Switzerland and led to much soul searching over whether children receive enough sex education.

This content was published on January 15, 2009 minutes

However, teenage pregnancies still remain relatively rare in the country, compared with Britain and the United States.

Ramona gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Nico, in December and is, according to media reports, now the youngest mother in Switzerland.

The teenager from near Solothurn in the German-speaking part of Switzerland apparently did not know she was pregnant until she was admitted to hospital with stomach pains. The father is also 13.

The media interest in the story, which was revealed in the tabloids last week, has been huge - as have been the outpourings of sympathy. One company has even offered to pay for a year's supply of nappies.

For youth psychologist Allan Guggenbühl, the fuss is rather strange. "In Britain or the United States, this would be a non-event because there teenagers regularly get pregnant and teenage pregnancy is [already] a tremendous issue in these countries," he told swissinfo.

The Swiss teen pregnancy rate (for the ages of 15-19) is just 4.3 per 1,000 women, compared with 9.9 per 1,000 in neighbouring Germany. In Britain the rate stands at 26 per 1,000, with the US the worst culprit in the western world at almost 42 per 1,000.

Acting quickly

One of the reasons for the relative rarity of adolescent births is the fact that many Swiss teenagers act quickly if they fall pregnant.

"Around 70 per cent of teenagers have an abortion at a really early stage," said Ruth Draths, a youth gynaecologist, who also runs an advisory website,, for young people.

"The diagnosis is made early, often within the first six or 12 weeks – in Britain this is often much later," she explained.

According to the tabloid Blick, only six girls under 14 had babies between 1987 and 2007 in Switzerland. The last documented case was a 12-year-old from Cameroon in Valais in 2005.

For Draths, Switzerland's population structure could be one reason why teen pregnancies are uncommon. She said that girls of other ethnicities sometimes started puberty earlier than their Swiss counterparts, which in fertility terms gave them a higher change of falling pregnant earlier.

Another reason is social behaviour. According to a study cited by Draths, the average age at which Swiss youth lose their virginity is 17 – this has remained stable over the past 20 years – which is relatively late compared with other countries.

Contraception issues

"Luckily many young people use a condom for their first time. Contraceptive behaviour is much better at ages 15 to 16, but often among the younger ones contraception is not so good," the doctor told swissinfo.

Often this is because the boy is much older and the girl doesn't have the confidence to ask him to use a condom, explained Draths.

The question of whether Swiss pupils know enough about sex and its consequences has also been debated in the media.

Draths said she had undertaken a study of 450 pupils and found that many did gain knowledge from school sex education classes.

But the success of these lessons often depended on the personality of the teacher and whether they felt comfortable – many don't – with the subject.

It is also not easy to know when to start teaching the subject as age 12 may be good for the girls, but boys, less mature at that age, would struggle. Added to this are religious concerns, particularly among Muslims, said Draths.

Parents' role

"But one shouldn't leave it to the school, it's important that the parents are part of this process," she said, adding that the overall responsibility was from the home.

Draths has observed a certain confidence among young people over discussing sexual matters. Psychologist Guggenbühl agrees.

"Sexuality is not condemned in Switzerland, it is not considered as something dirty, as something which one should approach with moral categories," he said. "It is looked upon as something natural and schools and parents inform their children rather openly about it."

"So it doesn't become a hot issue, in other words, teenagers themselves usually build up a cautious attitude towards sexuality and are not attracted to having sexual experiences at an early age," he explained.

However, Draths points out that there is still a risk group among very vulnerable 12 and 13-year-old girls in particular. Drugs and alcohol can also play a role.

"It very often depends on the personality," she said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Who pays?

The question of which benefits a young mother is entitled to has not yet been resolved. There are no rules concerning maternity leave – which has only been in place in Switzerland since 2005 – for a teenager. The authorities say it is up to Ramona to arrange with her school when she goes back.

As for the 13-year-old father paying his share – the couple are no longer together – it looks as if the authorities will be advancing the cash for now. He will have to pay it back when he earns money.

Ramona is not entitled to child allowance because it is linked to the payment of salaries, but her mother, who will help look after the baby, is eligible.

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According to media reports, around 100 underage girls (13-17 years old) give birth to babies in Switzerland each year. Only around a dozen are as young as 13.

This number has fallen greatly since 1970 when the number was 424. This has to do with the increased use of the pill, according to experts.

A study published in 2008 found worrying behaviour among young boys who are sexually active. It found that these 12-14 year olds knew little about contraception and left the girls to take care of the consequences.

It also found that, overall, 85% of youth used contraception for their first sexual encounter.

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