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Women’s Center of Jamaica Foundation » Family Planning

Women’s Center of Jamaica Foundation

November 21st, 2008 by jliebner@stanford.edu Leave a reply »

This week I want to being to talk about some groups that are taking an active approach towards addressing the problem of teenage pregnancy in Jamaica.   I was both surprised and excited when I read about the work of the Women’s Center of Jamaica Foundation who takes a different approach to preventing teenage pregnancy.  Rather than following a solely prevention approach (distributing contraception, reproductive health education, etc), the WCJF focuses on preventing repeat pregnancies during adolescent years by providing educational programs and helping adolescent mothers return to school.

Since 1977, the WCJF has helped over 22,000 adolescent mothers return to school and become economically self-sufficient.  In 1977, 31% of all births in Jamaica were births to teenage mothers, who were likely to have subsequent pregnancies during their adolescent years, leading to 3-4 children by the age of 20 (…and hence the proposal in Parliament to sterilize these girls…).

The WCJF “Programme for Adolescent Mothers” provides educational and training programs for pregnant or lactating girls under age of 16.  Its goals are for the girls to return to school after the birth of their child, to delay second pregnancy until professional goals are achieved, and to raise employment potential so that the young women could become self-sufficient and rely on opportunities other than men for financial support. The Programme has 7 centers and 6 outreach stations across the island and provides education and nutrition programs, as well as nursery and counseling services.

Pregnant girls are required to leave school, so the education program provides academic training to help prepare participants academically to return to formal schooling or to take the necessary final examinations to receive their diplomas.  Skills training is offered to help the young women obtain employment (clothing manufacturing, embroidery, farming, bee-keeping, etc).  By being able to complete secondary schooling and get a job, girls can become more self-sufficient.  They not only can take better care of their children, but also gain more financial security.

What I think is great about this program is that it really is a source of empowerment.  We talk a lot (or rather, we talk around) the idea of female “empowerment”, but I think this is really an excellent example (with great results!) of how education can really affect an individual’s life and create opportunities for a young woman that can remove her from unhealthy situations.  This program is particularly valuable because it not only addresses a problem (teenage pregnancy) and provides “treatment” programs (education programs), but it also works to decrease barriers of access to such programs, namely through its nutrition, and nursery services.  In class, we talked about incentives to get (or allow) young girls to go to school in some regions.  Providing a meal is a great way to encourage attendance, and it benefits the baby as well, both in utero and breastfeeding.  The programme also offers caretaking while the mothers attend classes, and most importantly, individual and group counseling.  I think counseling is a critical component of any treatment program because it not only increases understanding about certain issues, but it contextualizes them in terms of other people’s experiences, which I think is an incredibly powerful experience. Counseling also provides a sense of community, and through this, fosters self-respect.

What I like most about this program is that it doesn’t give up on the girls who have, in a sense, failed the prevention efforts.  While preventing the issue altogether would be incredible and prevention programs (contraception, reproductive health awareness, addressing social norms) are definitely needed, efforts to help pregnant teenagers are essential, particularly to prevent them from having more children soon after. This is particularly important for an issue like teenage pregnancy in Jamaica, where young women, after their first pregnancy in their teenage years, have subsequent pregnancies before they are 20.

Here are some of the amazing statistics from the program.  Only 1.4% of the participants had a second child in any given year during the program, and the participants themselves have gone on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc.  The scope of the programs is impressive as well.  In 1997, the program reached 51% of the 3,016 girls under the age of 16 who gave birth nationwide.  What is most impressive is, however, that the positive results have continued into the next generation – all the children of the program participants are in school, and no pregnancies have been reported among the adolescent children.

Last week I talked about the importance of providing youth-friendly services.  I think this program is an excellent example of a youth-friendly service and is doing great work in Jamaica!

Pamela McNeil. “Women’s Centre, Jamaica: Preventing Second Adolescent Pregnancies by Supporting Young Mothers.” Family Health International youthnet.

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1 comment

  1. mjromano says:

    I also am particularly struck that this program addresses teenagers that other programs already rule out as “failures.” The statistics you site regarding second children and school attendance seem relevant, and this acknowledges that primary prevention will not work in all cases. The tendency to direct all solutions at “the root of the problem” (i.e. in this case adolescents before they have any children) leaves gaps for already-pregnant teenagers to fall through. The other thing that struck me was the coverage that this program gets in Jamaica. Any organization that actually tries to solve a society-wide problem needs to work across a society, so the breadth of WCJF is impressive. I wonder if the program has changed as it has grown and if it has strong opponents within Jamaican society.

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