Karin Demuth

Communications Advisor Care and Protection Support SOS Children's Villages International

Witnessing a great change

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Teenage pregnancy is a sensitive issue within SOS Children’s Villages. Whereas in the past pregnant girls automatically had to move to another housing option, for example to a youth programme or to relatives, this practice has recently been re-considered. I was sent to Bolivia to work on a case study on a girl who became pregnant at the age of 17 and where another solution was found: The girl could stay in her SOS family. The reason for this new approach was due to a case where a girl in an SOS Children’s Village in Bolivia hid her pregnancy out of fear and gave birth alone in her bedroom. This was a wake-up call for the whole SOS Children’s Village.

After extensive discussions and a group therapy session, the SOS Children’s Village management team, together with the staff, agreed on more flexibility in regard to teenage pregnancy: Whenever a girl becomes pregnant, her situation must not be judged, but the pregnant girl must be given help in order to deal with the situation. Moreover, the individual situation of every girl has to be assessed and the best solution needs to be found.

A joint decision
When the girl whose story I documented in the case study discovered her pregnancy, she wanted to live with her boyfriend. But she struggled with a range of troubles with him and his family. The solution to go back to the SOS family was a joint decision, taken by the girl, her SOS mother, the SOS family, and village management. It helped to consolidate her life, to continue with her training process and education for independent living in the future. This solution meant emotional stability for her and at the same time strengthened family life as her daughter was welcomed as a new family member and the whole family contributed to caring for the baby. Although this meant a change for the family, everybody adapted easily while they were supported by the village staff. This new approach is also seen as a step towards breaking the cycle of child abuse and abandonment as pregnant girls in the past, when forced to leave their SOS family, were at high risk to live in a marginalized environment with high risk of child rights violations.

Creating empathy among SOS mothers
As an accompanying measure, new spaces to discuss cases of teenage pregnancy were launched, creating empathy among other SOS mothers. In the past, there had been talk that having a pregnant girl in an SOS family might set a bad example and increase the risk of other girls following this example. However, having a baby in an SOS family is a chance for other children to get a realistic picture of what it means to have a child, with all the responsibilities it brings for the present and the future. Besides, giving pregnant girls the chance to stay in their SOS family supports the nature of a family environment and strengthens relations. The girls see that the SOS family is there for them, even in situations of crisis. Young mothers have to take the responsibility, but SOS Children’s Villages is there to help them take on this responsibility.

Awareness raising enforced by village management
Furthermore, the village management started to enforce awareness raising on challenges with teenagers and teenage pregnancies and to provide more information, lectures, workshops, etc. on sexuality topics to young people as a measure to prevent teenage pregnancy.

This approach is a great step into the right direction: An individual solution was found for the girl. In this case it meant that the girl could stay with her SOS family until she is able to live independently. In other cases the best solution might be another one. What counts is that the best interest of the girl and the [her] baby are considered and that individual solutions are found.
I had the chance to witness the change the village went through and how they developed this new approach. I was impressed by the openness, the commitment and effort they showed to find a solution that really is in the best interest of the young girl. This is how it should be if we take our vision, mission and values seriously.

Karin Demuth

is Communications Advisor Care & Protection Support at the International Office Innsbruck, Austria

Professionally, I enjoy a background in journalism. In this field, I worked in the print and radio area, even to the extent of working for a few months for my own magazine. I also I taught German to persons applying for asylum in Tyrol, Austria.
I have been working for SOS Children's Villages for more than 22 years. Although I changed department/function/competence centre several times, I have always been involved in the area of communications. At present, I am responsible for communications in the Programme & Strategy Competence Centre in the International Office, currently with a strong focus on the 2030 strategy project.
I am married. My husband comes from Berlin, Germany and happily enough, he adjusted well to little Innsbruck and the alpine environment. I have a sister and she lives just a 20 minutes’ walk away from my home. I am glad that both my parents are still alive and as they now advance in age and their strengths weaken, roles begin to change: Now they need the support they used to give me when I was young. I try my best to be there for them.
Just recently, I read that Europe has accommodated fewer refugees in 3 years than Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in ONE DAY! As a human being in society, this topic – people who have to leave their country for whatever reasons – concerns me a lot. Consequently, I am involved in helping refugees to find family members with whom they have lost contact during or after their escape. Moreover, I recently started to work as a volunteer for the Red Cross.
In my leisure time, I love to explore the world: by travelling, in the best case, or by reading books from all parts of the world. These enrich me with yet another perspective, and help me feel part of something big. I also love practicing Yoga, at least a few minutes every morning and more intensely with my weekly Yoga class which I have attended for more than 12 years.