Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer
Statistics have revealed that Jamaica has been experiencing a decline in the number of young women getting pregnant.
According to statistics from the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), pregnancy among young women age 15-19 declined from 38 per cent in 2002 to 36 per cent in 2008, while those having live births declined from 34 per cent in 2002 to 30 per cent in 2008.
The statistics also showed that fertility among women age 15-29 were 72 births per 1,000. However, it was lower than that of women age 20-24, with the birth rate of 124 per 1,000.
The existing fertility rate at 2.34 births per woman is a big drop from the 1970s of 4.5 births per woman. In 1975, for example, there were 137 births to women in the 15-19 age group. In the same age group it is now at 72.
Despite the decline, the NFPB is reporting that 47 per cent of women said their pregnancy was unplanned, 16 per cent of whom said it was unwanted. Hence, they are seeking to reduce the total fertility rate from 2.34 births per woman to 2.2 over the next five years, through the promotion of abstinence and increased contraceptive usage among teenagers.
Speaking at a Gleaner's Editors' Forum recently, corporal Glenville Bean of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), noted that the decline in teenage pregnancy and increased cooperation from health-care workers were mainly due to the implementation of the Child Care and Protection Act (2004), which makes it mandatory for them to report to the authorities young women under the age of 16 showing up pregnant.
However, despite the $500,000 fine or six months in prison penalty for failing to report offences against minors, the compliance rate among private institutions is lacking. In fact, just last year one doctor was arrested for performing an illegal abortion on a 13-year-old and failing to report the pregnancy to the authorities.
System not foolproof
Karl Angell, director of communications in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, admits that the system is not foolproof.
A nurse at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston said one of the reasons she feels some persons are not complying with the law is out of fear for their lives.
"There is always someone here who works with CISOCA, so if any young girl comes in pregnant they know," said the nurse who wished to remain anonymous.
"However, our lives are at stake, not only here, but at other clinics, because some of these girls are pregnant for gunmen and dons."
She said since the law was passed and officers posted at public facilities, a lot of the men who did not want it to be discovered that they had got an underage girl pregnant were now going to private doctors or opting for home care and delivery. And some have even gone the route of abortion.
She said, just like her colleagues at clinics in the inner-cities believe, it is not because doctors or nurses do not want to cooperate, but it is another matter when you have to live in fear of the consequences from gunmen, relatives and sometimes the minors themselves who express that the act was consensual.
Jamaica's population is currently estimated at 2.65 million, of which women in the reproductive age group 15-49 represent approximately 707,600 or 26.7 per cent. The population growth rate has been declining steadily since 1995 and is currently at a rate of 0.5 per cent.
Jamaica's fertility rate is currently below the average level for the Caribbean region.