In Colombian culture, motherhood and childbearing are often seen as the premiere events of a young woman’s life. However the ways in which children impact a woman’s economic and educational limits, overall health and role in the broader society are significant, especially for young mothers living in poor economic conditions.
At 14 years old, Jeimy Melo confided in her aunt that she was pregnant. She was terrified of her parents' reaction and felt isolated.
"When I knew I cried," Jeimy said. "I thought that by crying I would solve it, I thought it would pass. At that moment I thought like a girl and not a woman."
Jeimy, now 21, said she has never had a positive impression of men when it comes to relationships.
"When I was younger I imagined, what if my children's father hits them? I was really scared that he would be an alcoholic, that there would be mistreatment and he would make me suffer," she explained. "It's what you see every day. Almost all men are drunks, cheaters, abusive with women."
A photo of a woman with the text "The best of the year" hangs in the storefront of Jeimy's parents' home.
In Colombian culture the "machismo" mindset is strong and widespread. Reproductive rights social worker for Oriéntame, Erika Marín, said this is the biggest challenge when it comes to women's reproductive health because it means enacting cultural change.
"One (challenge) is how to change the structure in which society understands women," Marín explained. "Like seeing women as only related to reproduction for example. It's something that has a lot to do with gender perspectives, like changing many roles and attitudes."
Carolina's mother couldn't afford to send her to school. At 17 years old she finally started school and completed fourth and fifth grade, but dropped out after one year. The distance and bus fare made the commute difficult. She officially quit after a violent situation with a local gang one day after school.
“Since we’ve always lived in this area there has always been gangs. I took an awful beating. They always find a reason, because you looked at them badly, because you said whatever.”
Carolina regrets not being able to complete her education, and sees her lack of job opportunities as the result. She therefore constantly reminds her daughters the importance of school.
"I tell my girls a lot that if you want to be someone in life then study," she said. "Don’t be like me - washing dishes in one place, cleaning for others, because that's what I've had to do."
Like her daughters, Carolina didn't know her father. She said her stepfather was abusive and an alcoholic, and she never had a relationship with her biological father. When asked about him she talks with a matter-of-fact detachment.
“I met him when I was 5. I knew he was tall and tan. Marcela (her sister) and I saw him only once and then never heard from him again. We never knew anything about him and I don’t even remember his image right now.”
Carolina does her daughter's hair in preparation for school.
Carolina and Jeimy collect recyclables from Patio Bonito and surrounding barrios late in the night or early morning for a monthly stipend from the government.
She said their incomes vary but they can make around 8,000 to 10,000 COP per day (about $4 to $5). When they collect recyclables and turn it into the government, depending on the weight, she has received up to $300 per month which she then splits with fellow recyclers.
Carolina's sister, Marcela, holds her newborn niece. Carolina's younger sister, who is 15 years old, is the mother.
"She is 15 but she shouldn't be raising a child, imagine that!" Carolina said, "The one that helps her out is my mother. She (her sister) lives with the boyfriend but he's useless. They are the same age. They still don't have the mentality that that's a responsibility."
Carolina's mother was excited about the birth of her first grandchild, but felt differently about the second daughter. Having 11 kids of her own, her mother knows what challenges come with children.
"In the first pregnancy my mother was happy because it was the first grandchild, the first niece to my siblings. During the second pregnancy she didn't really agree because I didn't even let the first one grow and well, another one. She said, 'The first one, the second one are acceptable but another one and you can forget that you have a mother.'
Patio Bonito is located in one of the largest "localidades" of Bogota.
"Sometimes I’d like to change my environment to a calmer barrio where you don’t see so much violence," Carolina, 27, said. "Now you go out during the day and they will rob you with no regards, it doesn’t need to be night anymore."
Although there has been progress in the amount of information about sexual health available to the public, improvements are still needed. For example, Jeimy and Carolina didn't receive sex education in school, nor did their parents inform them at home.
"With time you learn," Jeimy said. "If someone would have explained this or that I would think more and wouldn’t have gotten pregnant at such an early age. It’s difficult, at the time you don’t think but you don’t know the responsibility you have coming when not protecting yourself."