Why are men not being prosecuted for teenage pregnancies?
While the data on teenage mothers provided by the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) on Wednesday is not a reflection of what obtains nationally, it should give the country cause for great concern.
According to the WCJF, it registered 1,132 young women in its core programme for adolescent mothers over the eight-month period April to November 2013. Of that number, 503 were new enrollees, with 49.4 per cent in the 16 and under age group. No country can take comfort in that data, especially when placed against the fact that the age of consent is 16.
The data also bring into sharp focus the concern raised by the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) two weeks ago that its message of abstinence -- a vital plank in its promotion of family planning among adolescents -- has not been effective.
"The abstinence message has not worked, is not working, and we can only assume that it will never work," Dr Sandra Knight, the executive director of the NFPB, said during an appearance at the Jamaica Observer Press Club.
"We still have that message, (but) when we look at our data...the prevalence of teenage pregnancy and of HIV and STIs is still the same. It's not being changed, so we have to look at doing things differently," Dr Knight argued.
Repackaging the sex message, she said further, was critical, because continuous advice to young people not to have sex has only resulted in increased sexual activity among them. Dr Knight believes that any significant reduction in the numbers will only come when parents, teachers and church leaders begin to have open and frank conversations about sex and sexuality with teens.
We agree, because adults, we hold, have a responsibility to instill youngsters with a sense of responsibility, appreciation for their role as productive citizens and awareness of the health, emotional and life-changing challenges presented by unwanted pregnancies.
But, just as important is the need for a national push to change cultural norms that result in adult males, in particular, viewing teenaged girls as prey. Educational programmes aimed at shattering many of the myths associated with this practice need to be sustained and will, we suspect, yield better results when communities are saturated with the message.
That message should be accompanied by strong enforcement of the law pertaining to carnal abuse, for it appears that many of the guilty individuals are not being punished. In fact, in a number of communities these men are celebrated by their peers and, unfortunately in some instances, by older individuals who should know better and should be setting examples.
On that note, we, like the members of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, to whom the WCJF presented the data, are also puzzled by the absence of figures regarding referrals for criminal prosecution of the men responsible for the pregnancies.
The WCJF must answer that question, and if it is that no such referrals have been made, the foundation must then ask itself why.