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News, 7/20/2017

Maternity pack for 11-year-olds attracted attention in the UN

The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Plan International Finland organised a side event at the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development in New York on Thursday 13 July.

The event was titled “Why Should Babies Sleep in Cardboard Boxes – National Tools for Maternity Protection” and presented successful results gained in efforts to support the wellbeing of children and their mothers. One of the success stories was the Finnish maternity pack which saw daylight in 1937. The maternity pack illustrates Finland’s development from a poor country to one of the world’s best places to have and raise children and to live as a child. To draw attention to the fact, that a majority of girls living in poverty do not have social protection or access to health services, a maternity pack intended for 11-year-old child mothers was also presented at the event.

Economic pressure is one of the main reasons for child marriages and countries, where they are common, have the highest childbirth rate among underage women.  Even today, approximately 14 million girls between the age of 15 and 19 give birth every year. Their risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth is twice as high as among adult women.  According to panelists from Brazil, Finland, Namibia and Uganda, there are also cultural reasons and lack of information behind child motherhood. In Namibia, for example, contraception is free and universal and yet women get pregnant before they are ready for it, told Linda Scott from the Namibian Permanent Mission to the UN.

In a video interview, Maureen Ajilong, who works as a midwife, listed some concrete barriers to general health of mothers and children in Uganda: unplanned pregnancies, poor connections to health services, fears arising from the community to seek care, and distrust towards health services. It all starts with increasing awareness, said Alijong. Plan is campaigning against child motherhood based on the worrying fact that more than 2 million girls under 15 years of age get pregnant every year, told Plan’s Programme Manager Mari Luosujärvi. Education is one of the best ways to fight child motherhood. Plan’s maternity pack for 11-year-old child mothers was presented both on a video and as a concrete pack flown from Helsinki to the meeting venue at the very last minute. As a signal of the absurdity of child motherhood, the maternity pack left the participants speechless and gave rise to a lot of emotions.

The maternity pack symbolises home

Mia Helle from the Social Insurance Institution of Finland reminded the audience that, as an established practice, the maternity pack alone does not change anything. It is one element of the wider social policy framework with a long history of legislation where the health of mothers and children and possibilities to make a living are seen as a whole. “However, the maternity pack has also symbolic value for the Finns. It symbolises home and the fact that the administration, State and society care about each individual and the fundamental change brought about by the birth of a child,” said Anu Partanen, author of the book entitled “The Nordic Theory of Everything”. In Brazil, as in Finland, access to maternity health services is universal. On the other hand, maternity protection is only targeted at the country’s poorest areas and yet as many as 14 million families are covered by it, said Mariana Baloni from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).               

Partanen reminded why it is important that the maternity pack in Finland is the same for everyone and not provided only to the poor. Maternity protection, including health care, income and access to child care, are in everyone’s interests. “When a society supports universal social protection, and in particular that of mothers and children, it benefits the society as a whole”, said Partanen. It also consolidates societal stability which, in turn, is in the interests of those who are doing well. In short, everyone gets something for their tax money.

More information: Senior Adviser for Development Policy, Eeva-Maria Mikkonen-Jeanneret, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, eeva-maria.mikkonen-jeanneret(at)formin.fi and Program Manager, Mari Luosujärvi, Plan International Finland, mari.luosujarvi(at)plan-international.org   

Text: Sanni Inovaara, Prime Minister's Office of Finland, Picture: Anu Kiljunen, Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN  

Updated 7/20/2017

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