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Women’s Centre says half of registered mothers 16 and under

Bartlett: Women’s Centre must move from its ‘fire station’ approach

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 20, 2014    

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THE Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) says that approximately 50 per cent of teenage mothers it registered April-November last year were 16 years old and under.

In a report to Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) yesterday, the WCJF said if has 1,132 mothers registered in its core programme for adolescent mothers over the eight-month period. Of that number, 503 were new enrollees with 49.4 per cent of them in the 16-and-under age group.

The foundation said that although it provides a counselling programme for the "baby fathers", only 156 of them received counselling over the period as it continues to experience challenges making contact with them, "due to the perception that punitive actions will be taken against them".

The programme provides interventions, including academic instruction, individual and group counselling and skills training. A total of 559 mothers were returned to the formal school system, or to other educational or skills training institutions. However, the WCJF said only 42 per cent of Jamaica's adolescent mothers benefit from its programme, and 387 teenage girls who became mothers over the same period did not even enrol in the programme.

Only 341 of the registered teen mothers have so far accepted a contraceptive method of choice. Adolescent mothers drop out of the programme for a number of reasons, primarily their inability to afford transportation cost to access the services. In fact, 61 dropped out of the programme during the period covered by the report.

"With the harsh economic times, there has been increased need for assistance with transportation allowance," the foundation stated.

The PAAC was unable to seek clarification on the issues from representatives of the WCJF yesterday as it ran out of time. But Chairman Edmund Bartlett told the Jamaica Observer after the meeting that there are a number of questions that need to be answered when the WCJF representatives appear in early March.

"There is a sense in which the WCJF, with its 'fire station' approach, has become a self-perpetuating Government service offered by the 'nanny state', with little impact on the underlying problem of too many ill-equipped teenagers having children," he added.

He noted that data provided by the World Bank show that Jamaica was the fourth highest ranked country in the Caribbean in terms of adolescent fertility in 2011, with a rate of 72 per 1,000. This was ahead of The Bahamas' 29 per 1,000; Trinidad and Tobago's 35 per 1,000; Haiti's 44 per 1,000; and Barbados' 49 per 1,000. The only countries ahead of Jamaica were Belize, 73; Guyana, 91; and the Dominican Republic with 101.

He said that among the questions PAAC members want to ask is why the WCJF's data do not include statistics regarding referrals for criminal prosecution of the men who "impregnate the underage girls".

The Women's Centre Programme for Adolescent Mothers was established in 1978 in response to a high level of teenage pregnancy islandwide. In 1991, it gained foundation status and became the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation. In addition to caring for the needs of adolescent mothers, it also provides counselling for "baby fathers", their parents and those of the teen mothers; skills training for females aged 17-25; confidential counselling; day-care facilities; and walk-in counselling.

Just last year, the centre reported that more than 68 per cent of the girls enrolled in the programme for period 2011/2012 were between the ages of 15 and 16. Over that period, the centre said it admitted four 12-year-olds; 35 13-year-olds; 110 14-year-olds; 260 15-year-olds and 260 16-year-olds. A total of 91 17-year-olds were also admitted over the period.

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