Colombia's social woes are as well-known as its exquisite natural beauty: rampant drug trade, political corruption, and endemic violence that has plagued the South American nation throughout a civl war spanning more than six decades. Perhaps less known is another phenomenon of pandemic proportions: young single mothers. An astronomical 84% of Colombian children are born to single mothers, one of highest percentages in the world, and nearly 1 in 5 adolescents will get pregnant before turning 20.
The causes are complex and multiple, filtered through the central paradox of a society that is simultaneously hyper-sexualized (on average adolescents begin their sexual lives at 13) and staunchly Catholic (abortion is not considered an acceptable option). The guerrilla warfare has certainly played a contributing role, shattering the traditional family structure with murders, rapes and abductions and displacing tens of thousands of people. This, in turn, compounds the poverty and lack of educational opportunities that are are common refrains among young mothers: only 8.4% of these have a professional level of education, and nearly a third live in conditions of extreme poverty.
Yet despite the bleak statistics motherhood in Colombia is praised, cherished, and aspired to. The traditional union of man, woman and child is replaced by networks of mothers, aunts and grandmothers, girls become women after giving birth and shower affection on their bright-eyed newborns. Many women choose to become mothers, whether or not they count on the moral or financial support of a partner, and provide richly for their children. The following images offer a glimpse inside some of these stories, focusing on the city of Medellín in the department of Antioquia.