Tue | Nov 21, 2017

Barely legal! - Teens getting pregnant shortly after reaching 16 years old worrying for officials

Published:Sunday | October 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Teen girls at the Empowered for Motherhood and Success Conference put on by the ScotiaFoundation at the Jamaica Conference Centre yesterday.
Joylene Griffiths (left), executive director, ScotiaFoundation, presents a trophy to Yasheka Brooks (second right), presenter at the recent Girls Empowered for Motherhood and Success Conference. Sharing the moment are (from left) Dr Zoe Simpson of the Women’s Centre Foundation and Dr Janice Lindsay, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports and Yasheka’s mother Rosemarie Brooks.
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Jamaican teens are waiting a little longer to get pregnant, but not by much. While in previous years the teens getting pregnant for the first time averaged 14 years, the authorities are now seeing the majority getting pregnant at 16 years.

Dr Zoe Simpson, executive director of the Women's Centre Foundation of Jamaica, told The Sunday Gleaner that while the girls are older, they are still generally ill-prepared for motherhood.

For the 2015-2016 academic year, data from the Women's Centre Foundation of Jamaica, which attempts to motivate young mothers to choose education instead over motherhood, showed that of the 660 new students admitted, 217 were 16 years old.

Simpson noted that getting pregnant at 16 creates challenges for the authorities as it means that a girl at this age would not necessarily need to disclose the father of her child since she is able to consent to having sex.

It means, too, that the individual who impregnated her would not face any criminal charges if it was not a rape case, although she is still considered a child under the law.

"No girl will come outright and tell you that she has deliberately delayed a pregnancy until this age," said Simpson.

"As to why, we can only conjecture. It's not a question that we ask as to why you waited until this time. As a matter of fact, it should not have happened, they are still underage, although 16 is the age of consent," added Simpson.

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison is also concerned about the teenagers getting pregnant. She, too, contends that while they might be legal to have sex, they are not ready for motherhood.

Gordon Harrison is among those lobbying the government to increase the age of consent to 18 years old; however, during her latest appearance before a joint select committee of Parliament which discussed the issue, parliamentarians seemed unconvinced.

"When you have a 16-year-old still being classified as a child, still living at home with parents, still going to school; when you have that person still being a child for all intent and purposes, but you are saying, 'you know what, if you have sex, it is OK', it is a mixed signal," Gordon Harrison told The Sunday Gleaner.

"At the centre of my argument is that artificial kind of separation doesn't afford our 16- and 17-year-olds the protection under the law that I think they should have," she added.

 

NOT A DELIBERATE ACT!

 

According to Gordon Harrison, while she does not believe the girls deliberately set out to get pregnant at 16 years old, the fact is that sex is permissible at this age and, as such, they will partake.

"I think they are just having sex because they can, and because they are not really as careful as they should be, they happen to get pregnant.

"These are children who we are taking away the protection from because the age of consent is 16. At the centre of my argument is that if we are serious about limiting particular acts that affect children, then we should protect all children and not some," she said.

Simpson agreed: "We don't want them pregnant at 16 and 17 when they should be focusing on doing their CXCs and trying to matriculate for tertiary-level education. We want our young people in the colleges and the universities and the training institutions beyond high school," argued Simpson.

"We all know, once you start your family, it is almost not your opportunity anymore, you have to ensure that everything is in place for that child," she added.

The join select committee is currently reviewing the oral and written submissions from the members of the public relating to the Violence against Women and Children, the Sexual Offences Act, the Child Care and Protection Act and the Domestic Violence Act.

The committee is expected to submit its report to Parliament by next month.

Nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.comµ