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Safer Sex Week finds fretful Family Planning Board

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate Editor — Features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 10, 2014    

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SAFER Sex Week begins today against the backdrop of concerns by the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) that the educational level of some citizens is hindering its success.

Members of the NFPB, the government agency responsible for promoting family planning services in the country, told the Jamaica Observer Press Club last Thursday that it was facing several challenges in carrying out its mandate, including the difficulty some groups have in accessing the services and some social practices, including inter-generational sex, which are driving the incidence of teenage pregnancy.

But at a more fundamental level, the board said some of its messages were not having the intended effect because some sectors of society just don't seem to be understanding them.

"...We seem to have challenges in communicating our messages effectively because many times we have a message and we give it to the population and it turns out that that's not what they have in mind. So we always have to be rethinking and reformatting our messages and doing focus groups," board chair, Dr Sandra Knight said.

For example, the board is currently reformatting its abstinence message, after concluding that the present design was ineffective, because teenage pregnancy numbers remained relatively high at 72 per 1,000 live adult births compared with 147 per 1,000 in 1975.

But NFPB took credit for the decrease in the country's adult fertility rate, from 4.5 in 1975 to 2.4 as of 2008, due in large measure to the wildly popular "Two is better than too many" public education campaign, in which it encouraged families to limit their number of children to two. In addition to poor education, Knight acknowledged that norms such as the "gal inna bungle" culture, which glamorised multi-partner relationships, theories about having children at younger ages as validation of one's sexuality, and transactional sex were to blame for a lack of behaviour change towards more responsible sexual practices.

"The cultural level of Jamaica is difficult to crack," Knight said, adding: "We encourage our boys to have as many women as they like when they start to become sexually active, and we don't even realise that, as parents, these are the same boys who are going to become men who need to learn to control themselves when they have a family."

Regarding the practice of having children at younger ages, Knight, a medical doctor, related the case of a 22-year-old who has already had four children. She also told of a pregnant woman in her late teens who, though she still lives with her parents, and though she doesn't have a stable partner, insisted that she was ready to have a child.

Teen mother Krystal Cousins, who assists the NFPB in outreach activities targeted at adolescents, backed up Dr Knight. "In the inner city, there are so many young females getting pregnant and children having children and you find out that when you have one child you just keep having more and more," she said.

"As a young mother, I think they should come into the communities more often to inform other young mothers, because most of them, their parents don't sit with them and talk to them about sex," Cousins added.

Even with that reality, however, the NFPB said the adolescent birth rates were higher in rural areas than in urban centres. But, in spite of the challenges, the board said it was "reaching people" and referenced the Knowledge, Attitude, Perception and Behaviour survey of 2008 which showed an increase in condom use, albeit among men with multiple partners.

"It's challenging, but we're not daunted at all," said Knight.

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