High school moms - hardship forcing Clarendon girls into teenage pregnancy
Kellits High School in Clarendon is among several educational institutions struggling with the growing trend of girls dropping out because of underage pregnancy.
Over the past two years, 20 girls have quit the rural school to become mothers, which has become a major concern for the school administration as they seek to implement strategies to stem the problem.
Like other schools across Jamaica faced with this challenge, they are also working with the Ministry of Education to institute a number of initiatives, including reintegrating the girls after the child is born and adding to the curriculum programmes focusing on the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy.
But the school administration believes that unless the social challenges that the girls face in the parish are addressed, their efforts will be for naught and more and more girls will be caught in the same trap. Poverty and hardship, they said, have forced many of the students to work or hustle for survival, with some girls turning to older men for financial assistance, which in turn lead to an undesired compromise.
In fact, within the first three months of this school year, 11 girls were forced to leave Kellits High because of pregnancy, adding to the nine who dropped out for the same reason last year.
"Those are students who attended school last year and were to come back this year but didn't because they are pregnant," Kellits High School's principal, Texal Christie, told The Sunday Gleaner.
"Some of them actually started the new school year, but then persons came and told us they are not coming back due to pregnancy."
The 11 young mothers are among 63 students who have not returned to the school for the current academic year, as the population fell from 1,021 last school year to now 922. Financial reasons accounted for 33 of the absentees, nine have transferred to other institutions, eight turn up occasionally and two have migrated.
Christie fears that based on the trend, more girls could get pregnant and quit school within the coming months.
"It might get worse because there might be some in the system who might drop out before the end of the (school) year," the principal said. "Last year, before examinations, two dropped out, and this is the beginning of the term, so you will have others who drop out before the end of the (school) year."
The majority of the 63 students dropping out are those who would be entering grade 11 (13 females and five males) and preparing to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams next year. There were also 17 from grade 10, grade nine (16), grade eight (seven) and five from grade seven.
HARDSHIP FORCES HUSTLING
"Why you find it like this is that these are the ones who will go and find work; do a little hustling on the farm and all that," Christie explained.
"The younger ones will come because their parents will make sure, but once they reach grade 10, that is where they probably have to start hustling and there is where they now become easy targets, so you are going to have a greater rate of pregnancy."
Kellits High School's guidance counsellor, Faith Byfield, said the situation is not unique to that institution, as the economic hardship in the Clarendon north division has seen students dropping out from other schools.
"A lot of the times what causes the pregnancy in the first place is poverty because a lot of them have to do bartering and all of this to come to school, and it ends up in pregnancy," said Byfield.
"So when they are coming back to school after having the child, the poverty is going to escalate, because they now have a child to take care of and themselves. Sometimes it pushes them not to come back because they can't find anybody to assist them with the child."
Efforts are made to get the girls who dropout due to pregnancy into weekly Friday classes at the school's mini women's centre, which is ran in collaboration with the local health centre. There, they are taught mathematics, English, social studies, and a science subject.
They are then allowed to resume regular classes at the school after giving birth, picking up from the grade they were in when they got pregnant.
"If they drop out with the baby in grade eight, they will come back and repeat grade eight," Byfield explained.
"One of the stipulations that we have for them to be reintegrated is that they can't be living with the fathers of the children, because that would send a wrong signal to the girls that we have here who are not dropouts."
While there have been some success stories, with two mothers having completed sixth form last academic year and moved on to tertiary institutions, not all the young mothers have fared as well.
"We have one girl who ended up having two children before she was reintegrated. She dropped out in grade eight, had one baby, and by the time we could get her back she had another child and ended up dropping out again, because there was nobody there to stand up with her and the two children," Byfield disclosed.
"She was to go into grade 10 this September, but she stopped coming again because she has to do her little domestic work, as there is no father figure in the home at all."
Won't identify fathers
Another challenge that the school faces is that the young mothers are most times unwilling to reveal the names of the fathers of their children, in an effort not to land them in trouble with the law for having had sex with a minor.
"They are so aware of the Child Care and Protection Act that they will not name these individuals. Some of them are pregnant for schoolboys, but some of the fathers are bigger men in the communities," Byfield highlighted.
"They rather take the blame on themselves than to identify who these individuals are, with some preferring to say they got raped and don't know who is the father."
She added, "One mother said to me 'then when mi send the father go a prison, teacher, a me a go mine the pickney miself'?"