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JIS News

World Population Day will be observed on Friday, July 11, under the theme: ‘Family planning: It’s a right; Let’s make it real’.
This year’s commemoration provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the benefits of family planning, including its vital role in enhancing maternal health, gender equality, and poverty reduction.
The theme encourages activities, events, and information that will help make this right-to-plan a reality, especially for those who often have the hardest time getting the information and services they need to plan their families, including marginalized populations and young people.
In his statement for World Population Day, Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, Harold Robinson said: “Far too many persons and families are trapped in a condition of persistent poverty, brought on, in many cases, by a lack of access to family planning information and services.”
He noted that when a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life.
In Jamaica, some of the persons least able to make choices about family planning are the young and the dispossessed. Statistics from the Registrar General’s Department show that between 2004 and 2007, an average of 245 teenagers per year below the age of 15 were having their first child. The age of sexual consent in Jamaica is 16 years.
During the same period, an average of almost four 15 year-old girls per year were having their second child by age 15. Also, in those four years, one girl under 15 had a third child, and one had a fourth child, according to the statistics.
These statistics have horrified Children’s Advocate, Mary Clarke. “Data from the Registrar General’s Department indicates that of the 42,399 live births occurring in Jamaica in 2006, some 3,387 were to teenage mothers 17 years old and under. Of this number, 283 were the second child to be born to the mother, while 14 were the third child to be born,” she told JIS News.
“These births are taking place,” she continued “in an era when there is access to services, heightened public education and many programmes promoting safe sex. The fact that teenagers are still getting pregnant goes to show that they are not translating the information or knowledge into practice.”
Mrs. Clarke said that during the fiscal year 2007/08, the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation reported that 1,559 teenagers were registered in its programme. Some 471 of them were under age 16. The Women’s Centre cares for pregnant teenagers and other women.
“It is a sad fact that very often these pregnancies are the result of forced sex or sexual abuse. Where this is the case, we urge our teenagers to report the incident to the relevant authority or a responsible adult. We also want to remind parents and others that they have a legal obligation to report such a case to the police or the Children’s Registry,” she continued.
In the meantime, the Government has implemented initiatives to improve access to family planning services.
Partnerships with agencies and NGOs that are devoted to the needs of marginalized women and the most vulnerable in society are some of the most effective ways to give universal access to reproductive and sexual health commodities, including information about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
According to a joint statement from the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the UNFPA to mark World Population Day, “the government’s Medium Term Socio-Economic Policy Framework (MTF) for the health sector lists HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and the reduction of child and maternal mortality rates as two areas that will significantly contribute to the reduction of poverty. Achieving these goals will mean integrating population-related factors into national development strategies and plans.”
The Government and the UNFPA currently have two programmes in Jamaica that directly target these issues. These are the Female Condom Initiative and the GOJ/UNFPA Sexual Reproductive Health Project.
Initiated as a pilot project in May 2008, the three-month Female Condom Initiative is aimed at introducing female condom use to 23,000 women in Westmoreland, St. Andrew and Kingston, as a way to empower women to have greater control over their sexual and reproductive health, including reducing STD infection.
This programme is being implemented through the Ministry of Health (National HIV/STI Programme), the National Family Planning Board, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Jamaica Red Cross, FAMPLAN, Peer Counselling Association of Jamaica, and the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life.
The GOJ/UNFPA Sexual Reproductive Health Project assists persons with disabilities to have full access to health information and services. This is aimed at the eight per cent of disabled women and nine per cent disabled men in the island.
In her message for World Population Day, Executive Director of the UNFPA, Thoraya Obaid, is calling on the nations of the world to renew their commitment to their people.
“Information and services for family planning allow individuals and couples to realize their right to determine the number, spacing and timing of their children. Family planning is also an effective means in the fight against poverty. Parents can plan ahead and devote more of their resources to the education and health of each child, which benefits the family, community, and nation,” she said.