Targeted plan needed to tackle teenage pregnancy - Steps being taken to assist Kellits High School
The Ministry of Education is currently taking steps to ascertain the prevalence of adolescent pregnancies in schools across the island.
The move comes after The Sunday Gleaner last week highlighted the challenges being faced by Kellits High School in Clarendon, where over the past two years, 20 girls have got pregnant and dropped out of school.
"Despite the fact that the number of adolescent mothers continues to decline in Jamaica, as indicated by data from the Registrar General's Department, the ministry is aware that adolescent pregnancy is still a major challenge for some institutions across the island," the Ministry of Education shared in an emailed response to questions from The Sunday Gleaner.
"At this time, the prevalence is unknown; however, internal discussions have already commenced regarding the analysis of attendance data and dropout rates to determine the extent of the issue. It is expected that this information will be available in the new year."
The Ruel Reid-led ministry revealed that a comprehensive approach will be used to address the issue at Kellits High.
"The ministry has already instructed the team to conduct the audit for the appropriate intervention to be put in place. It should be noted that audits are also being conducted in other schools," the ministry shared.
"We are also urging other schools with a similar issue, or other related issues, to contact the ministry so that the necessary support can be mobilised to facilitate the healthy development of our children."
WOMEN'S CENTRE OUTREACH
One organisation that has already commenced work in the Clarendon community to assist the teenage mothers is the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation, which has established a one-day outreach programme in the area.
The programme has touched the lives of 16 teenage mothers since it was established in March of this year, offering them free academic classes and counselling, with home visits also conducted to check on the babies.
Counsellor attached to the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation in Mandeville, Margo O'Sullivan, who journeys to Kellits to work with the young mothers, believes teenage pregnancy is a serious problem in the area which needs to be addressed through education.
"Education, in terms of going into the schools and talking to them about abstinence and delaying pregnancies and so on," O'Sullivan said. "But not only that, for persons to have the mindset of doing other things and being occupied with schoolwork and understanding that being pregnant at this stage can pose a lot of challenges for employment, social, and economic reasons, because some of them do not go back to school. Also, the mindset of the community needs to change and parental issues addressed."
With the problem of adolescent pregnancy not being new or unique to the Clarendon-based institution, the education ministry believes a multi-sectoral approach is needed to address social, cultural, and economical determinants which contribute to the issue.
"We have, and will continue, to engage our partners from both the Government and civil society to develop more targeted interventions to meet the needs of our young people," the email read. "Earlier this year, we commenced the revision of our HFLE (The Health and Family Life Education) Curriculum to maintain its relevance, by updating content and including new topics and activities to address emerging issues, some of which are related to the very issue of adolescent pregnancy."
The ministry revealed that earlier this term, they developed a comprehensive training programme to help teachers and guidance counsellors, as they complained of feeling ill-equipped to handle the myriad sexual and reproductive-health issues facing today's adolescents.
The National Family Planning Board, along with the Ministry of Health and other members of civil society, are also teaming up with the education ministry to discuss strategies for strengthening the multi-sectoral response and implementing more effective evidence-based prevention, treatment, and care programmes to address not just adolescent pregnancy, but other adolescent sexual and reproductive-health issues.
One approach being suggested by the executive director of the National Family Planning Board, Dr Denise Chevannes-Vogel, is the establishment of more adolescent-friendly places.
"We know that by 13, the average boy has had sex in Jamaica, and a little older than that for girls," Chevannes-Vogel said.
"I think what needs to take place is that we should have adolescent-friendly places, so that those who are sexually active will be able to access information and services, including condoms. Of course, that is for those adolescents who have attained the age of consent."
She added, "We also have to talk about empowerment of girls and women, developing life skills and economic empowerment, as well as vocational training, so that with a degree of economic independence, women and adolescents will be able to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health."