PREGNANT schoolgirls are back in the news again. Why? You may well ask. Don't we have enough to be concerned about without adding that to the burden of concerns? Come on...whether you have no sympathy form or sympathy with the girl who slips through the doors of adulthood too soon, the boy or man who is the partner or perpetrator in this life-changing act of making a child doesn't even come into the equation.
He bears no scars. It is the girl who must pay the price. This is such an old story that it seems a waste of time to be arguing again about where "baby-madda" goes to school. "If she had any sense, she would have been studying her book instead of doing what she not supposed to." We've heard that so many times.
In the 1980s, the Education Act was amended to include two paragraphs relating to treatment of "a student of a public education institution who becomes pregnant". Paragraph 2, Section 31 of our Education Regulations makes it policy to "exclude such a student from attending the institution (school) during the period of pregnancy BUT (my emphasis) the minister MAY take such steps as necessary to permit her to continue her education in that institution or, if convenient, in another public education institution."
So, to interpret the regulations, once a girl "mek a mistake" she has to come out of school, and depending on the minister's generosity, MAY (me emphasising again) be PERMITTED to continue her education somewhere else.
Reading that edict today, it comes across so condescending and self-righteous, especially when looked at in the light of new attitudes to rehabilitation. What we are forgetting is how far we have been moving from the social norms of decades ago.
Pregnant girls are no longer sent to "country" for an extended visit until "the little stranger" arrives to be adopted or brought up by another member of the family. Family shame is not like it used to be. While there is still disapproval of a young girl being "force ripe", ie taking up big people burden too soon, there is still a sense of unease and disapproval. Pregnancy means sex, and children should not be going there. But sex is everywhere you turn.
To add this to the list of reasons why "this country gone to hell", it is sobering to reflect that teenage pregnancy is not only commonplace -- but a problem all over the world. Earlier this week, there was a news story on the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines reporting to their Parliament on the status of the campaign to reduce the birth rate among teenage mothers.
The subject has returned to public notice here with the introduction of the issue in the Senate by Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. Her moot is to have the education regulations amended to allow a pregnant schoolgirl to continue her education in the school which she was attending when her pregnancy occurred. Other persons are of the opinion that the minister of education should have no part in the decision.
While I commend interested citizens on their concern for the future of the young mothers-to-be, I find it hard to believe that any minister of education at a time like this, when the demands of modern education occupy every waking moment of administrators' time, would be so insensitive and reckless as to find time to prevent a student from staying on at school "wid belly?"
The real problem as I see it, is the lack of appropriate facilities which would make it practical for a student, in a typical ill-equipped school environment, to have a safe and comfortable pregnancy. Even if there were to be regulations giving the young mother-to-be the right to remain at her school until she has her baby, we cannot overlook the question of whether the school is in a condition to keep her and her unborn child safe and well.
Section 3 of the Education Regulation appears beneficient and generous in declaring: "Arrangements may be made to enable students who have been suspended or excluded from school for pregnancy or other health reasons, to sit important examinations in connection with the completion of their education."
A feature of the storm in an eye-cup, which has been slowly building, is determining the school's view of all this. Do school administrations still obey the regulations and do they admit the baby-mothers to their classrooms? Already, there are suggestions that even if this is done, it is not willingly. There is also the response of the baby-mothers. Not all are willing to face snide comments or jeers of fellow students as well as disapproval of teachers.
WHAT I DO KNOW is that we are more blessed than we know to have with us an institution which, since 1978, has been doing an incredible job in "Empowering our young girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy."
Popularly known as 'Women's Centre', it's official title is the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation, established 1978 in response to the high level of teenage pregnancy experienced in the country. Whatever the statistics are at the moment, the centre has not wavered in its mission.
The project started with one centre at 42 Trafalgar Road, Kingston. With little fanfare, it has grown to seven main centres and eight outreach stations islandwide. Surprisingly (to some people), it remains a government institution assisted by international funding, attached to the ministry whose portfolio includes women's affairs.
It has been allowed to grow under the leadership of dedicated managers and staff who are sensitive to the mission. The range of services which the centre offers includes not only the rehabilitation and re-education of the young mothers, but sensitising and civilising (my words) of baby fathers who agree to participate in the programme. This is a genuine success story, unusual in a time of negativity and lack of national confidence.
The success of the centre is one of the achievements which could help to "tek shame outta wi face" at a time when deviant elements of the society are busy tarnishing our country's name elsewhere.
SHAME AND SCANDAL: So now we stand before the world, shamed and disgraced by the avaricious robbers and their scam. Up to now I was under the illusion that the dishonest practice was just about conning people abroad into believing that they had come into fortunes, and for a fee, the winnings would be turned over to them.
What is being revealed now is that blackmail is part of the evil. Now that the matter has reached as far as a US Senate Committee and condemnation is upon us, what do we do now? "Trow wud and finger-pointing," especially among politicians, will not save us. Time to straighten up and fly right.
As to the allegation that it is the victims' fault for wishing to reap what they did not sow...don't even go there. Let's face it, tief is tief....and that is what some of our people have been doing, including robbing us of our good name. It is not a joke.