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In 1989 the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recommended that July 11 be observed globally as World Population Day to draw attention to population issues.In observance of World Population Day this year, the UNDP is focusing on teenage girls and the enormous challenges many face, such as the burden of being forced into early marriage and motherhood. Approximately 16 million girls, ages 15 to 19, and some 1 million girls under age 15 give birth every year, according to the World Health Organization.Under the theme, ‘Investing in Teenage Girls’, the UNDP has called on leaders across the globe to focus on the human rights of marginalised teenage girls.
Jamaica has been responding to the plight of marginalised teen girls through the work of the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF). Executive Director of the Foundation, Dr. Zoe Simpson, explained that the WCFJ was set up in 1978 to respond to the high level of teen pregnancy across the island.
With its headquarters at 42 Trafalgar Road in Kingston, and branches across the island, the WCJF provides a structured programme for pregnant teenagers who have dropped out of the formal school system.
Its impact, she said, was almost immediate.
“Back then, the teenage pregnancy rate was 31 per cent. A girl would get pregnant, drop out of school, and we wouldn’t hear from her until she resurfaces with another two babies,” Dr. Simpson told JIS.
“What the Women’s Centre seeks to do, and has been doing, is to help her (teen mother) get up and get on with her life, and if she did not have a dream, we help her to reach inside of herself and begin to dream.”
The Centre’s programme comprises two components – counselling and academics. Under the academic component, expectant mothers continue their studies until they are able to return to the formal school system. Counselling is provided to help girls ‘come to terms with their pregnancy’ and make informed decisions on the different contraceptive methods, according to Dr. Simpson.
“We cannot just look at the girls and say you wicked and you bad. A girl is pregnant, she made a mistake, and everybody makes mistakes. They want to get out, they want to get on with their lives, they want to complete their education and they need somebody to hold their hands and provide the support. This is what we seek to do,” said Dr. Simpson.
Teen Pregnancy Trending Down
Dr. Simpson noted that, in 2008, when the last survey on teenage pregnancy was done, it showed that teen pregnancy was down to 18 per cent.
The executive director noted that based on the declining number of girls being enrolled in Women Centres in recent times, as well as other factors, she believes teen pregnancy has even fallen below 18 per cent.
“Five or so years ago we had an average of 1,500 and we tapered down to 1,288. As at March 2016, we had 1,187 girls at Women Centres across Jamaica.”
“We also take into consideration pregnant teenagers who declined to be a part of the programme and even if we were to add that number to those who actually come we still have a lower rate than we had years ago.”
Stressing that the evidence is only anecdotal, she said a new survey is needed.
Meanwhile, the executive director said that despite the successes the WCJF has been reaping over the years, the incidence of teenage pregnancy is still unacceptably high.
“We have seen some success, but that’s not to say we have become complacent. We are still going on the ground, scouring the communities and interfacing with the parents and the nurses and the doctors and so on.”
“What we are doing is investing in the lives of our girls. The human capital has to be sufficiently positioned. It has to be an integral part of vision 2030 Jamaica,” said Dr. Simpson.
Vision 2030 Jamaica is a strategic road map to guide the country to achieve its goals of sustainable development and prosperity by 2030.