15 - 16-year-olds make up majority of teen mothers admitted to the Women’s Centre in 2011/2012
BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor -- special assignment email@example.com
JUST over 68 per cent of the girls enrolled in the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) programme for teen mothers in the period 2011/2012 were between the ages of 15 and 16, calling into question what is happening to students at the grade nine level of the secondary school system.
The programme also receives some girls as young as 12 and 13, but Acting Executive Director Dr Zoe Simpson said fortunately this group is in the minority.
Statistics from the WCJF 2011/2012 Annual Report showed that for the period under review, the centre 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 admitted over the period.
While the majority of them became mothers while in high school, 73 were attending all-age and junior high schools when they became pregnant.
"What we need to find out is what is happening or not happening at the grade nine level of the school process," said Dr Simpson.
"To what extent are the counsellors delivering the kind of counselling and health education that is needed, and what is happening to the youngsters, too, in terms of their own physical and emotional development?" she asked, adding that a study needs to be done to get a clearer picture of what is happening.
But with girls as young as 12 years beginning to drop out of school, this reinforces the importance of facilities like the Women's Centre to help these minors re-enter the formal school system in a bid to make a better life for themselves and their children.
In this regard, the WCJF continues to impact the lives of hundreds of teen mothers, giving them a second chance at completing their high school education.
In the 2011/2012 academic year, 1,402 teen mothers were enrolled at the Women's Centre's seven main centres and nine outreach sites across the island.
A 1996 study done by the late Dr Barry Chevannes showed that not only are Women's Centre participants higher achievers than their counterparts but they have lower repeat pregnancy rates up to the age of 18 years. It therefore goes without saying that they fetch higher-paying jobs as a result of the longer years of education and better qualification.
According to the study, a cost-benefit analysis indicates that women who return to school and complete grades 11 or 12 earn over 30 per cent higher wages than those who do not. The data further show that the estimated reduction in the number of births caused by the centre's intervention was 323. The implied saving to the health sector, at the time, was $13,840,873, and to the education sector $14,647,536 over the 73 years life expectancy.
To date, the centre, which prepares the teen mothers to be reintegrated into the formal school system, has impacted the lives of more than 43,000 of these young girls.
The WCJF programme allows for teen mothers to continue their education while pregnant and then be placed back in the formal school system after giving birth.
The teen mothers attend classes at the centres where they receive academic instruction in the core subjects mathematics, English, science, social studies, information technology and some skills training. There are also extensive individual and group counselling sessions which help greatly in reintegrating the girls into the formal school system.
Dr Simpson said the Women's Centre's role is critical to nation building, poverty reduction, maternal and infant mortality reduction, reduction of crime and violence, and national growth and development.
"If we do not educate these girls, then you are talking about abuse when her babyfather beat her up; she is also going to become dependent on the State as she will have a child she can't send to school and who will also be dependent on the State," Dr Simpson argued.
And although the centre has seen a decline in the number of girls enrolling in the programme, this is still not cause enough to start celebrating as the hope is that there can be an even greater reduction in the teen pregnancy rate.
According to Dr Simpson, there has been a steady decline in the number of teen mothers entering the programme within the last five years, with enrolment falling from an average 1,500 girls yearly to just about 1,400.
She said the downward trend can be attributed to the programme's intervention, which includes extensive personal development matters such as emphasis on delaying a second pregnancy.
"This is in terms of what we do to help the girls to better appreciate themselves and the value of an education and how using a contraceptive method can help you in delaying a second pregnancy," she explained.
But not all teen mothers take up the offer of a second chance, as data from the WCJF showed that during the period under review, 2,250 teen mothers were recruited through inter-agency collaboration, but only 1,402 enrolled in the programme. At least 90 of those who enrolled dropped out, mainly due to lack of parental support.
Dr Simpson said it was unfortunate that there are so many girls who do not enrol in the programme, but noted this was not from lack of trying to get them to access the services.
"A girl will say to us that 'from I am growing up my mother has been picking escallion' — a popular one we have heard, especially in St Elizabeth — and she has managed to raise a family and she has a house and she is financially stable without an education, so I can pretty much follow suit. There are others who will tell you that their boyfriend will support them, so they are looking narrowly and not looking down the road," Dr Simpson said.
Explaining the effort the Women's Centre counsellors put into reaching the girls, Dr Simpson said there is very little they can do when the teen does not accept the offer of a place in the programme.
"We make contact with these girls, either through the health centres and hospitals or we are given a name and an address, and we do the home visits to invite them to come in to register with her parent or guardian," she explained.
Dr Simpson, however, expressed concern about the lack of control the parents have over those girls who flatly refuse to enter the programme.
"You would think that as a minor the parent would say, 'You are going to enrol and we will help with the baby'. But the parents will look us in the eye and say ,'Well, she say she nuh waan guh, and if she nuh waan guh me cyaan force har'."
This, Simpson said, shows that these mothers have relinquished their parental role and responsibility in their children's lives.
"This speaks to a breakdown which is probably why there is a pregnancy in the first place," she added.
She is, however, optimistic that the Ministry of Education's newly implemented Integration Policy, which makes it mandatory for a place to be found for teen mothers to re-enter the formal school system, will help in attracting more girls to the programme.
While the majority of the girls who participated in a WCJF study reported that they were from a poor economic background, Dr Simpson said this does not necessarily support the argument that there is a correlation between teen pregnancy and poverty.
Of 248 girls attending the Kingston, Morant Bay, Jones Town centres and the St Margaret's Outreach , 45.97 per cent reported that their mothers were also teen mothers; 68.5 per cent consider their economic situation to be poor; 57.26 reported living with their mother alone, while only 13.71 per cent lived with both parents.
A study of 109 participants at the Mandeville Centre and the Junction and Denbigh Outreach sites revealed that 74.31 per cent were from poor economic backgrounds; 77.06 per cent reported that their mothers were also teen mothers while 56.88 per cent of them lived with their mother alone.
Of the 104 participants researched at the Montego Bay Centre, 73.08 per cent considered their economic situation to be poor, while 91.35 per cent of their mothers were themselves teen mothers. Some 51.92 per cent lived with their mothers alone, and 1.92 per cent of the teen mothers reported that their pregnancy was intentional.
A study of 88 participants at the Spanish Town Centre revealed that 52.27 per cent were poor; 79.55 per cent of their mothers were teen mothers, and 61.36 per cent lived with their mother alone.
But despite these findings, Dr Simpson said this is not evidence enough to link poverty to teen pregnancy.
"I don't know, from where I sit, that we can really point to a correlation between poverty and teen pregnancy. The girls whom we tend to see are usually from the lower socio-economic strata, but that is not to say that the girls from the upper echelons are not getting pregnant too, but they have other ways and means of taking care of the pregnancy... whether to have the baby and send it off some place and transition to another school or have an abortion, but we don't get those girls," Dr Simpson explained.
"So we have to be a little more careful in how we point to a correlation between poverty and teen pregnancy because we would really need to find out about the other girls who are getting pregnant and are not coming to us," she said.
As for the data that show some teens intentionally getting pregnant, Dr Simpson said there are instances when some girls deliberately become pregnant to get back at their parents.
"Sometimes the girls are wanting to get back at their parents so they do it deliberately or they want to get back at the boyfriend or want to hold on to the boyfriend or just give in to the pressure without thinking through the implications," Simpson said.
As for the link between the daughters of teen mothers following that example, Dr Simpson said the psychologists have determined that there is a correlation.
"The parents sometimes try so hard not to let this thing happen to 'my child', and by doing so naturally push her in that direction," Dr Simpson said.