Saturday, July 13, 2013

Preaching abstinence is insufficient for dealing with Jamaica's problem of teenage pregnancy

Widening front against teenage pregnancies

Jamacia Gleaner Editorial:

We look forward to urgent introduction and robust application of Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites' promised "positive, value-laden and age-appropriate family-life curriculum" in Jamaica's schools. 

For, like Mr Thwaites, this newspaper believes that there is value in having a moral component to education, including encouraging adolescents to delay sex and to value it as a special gift of love between committed adults.

Yet, we do not agree that preaching abstinence is sufficient for dealing with Jamaica's problem of teenage pregnancy, which was highlighted by the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) as part of yesterday's commemoration of World Population Day.

The problem is not as bad as, say, 40 years ago when we began to robustly address the problem of the high birth rate among adolescents in Jamaica, when the rate was 137 per 1,000. It has since nearly halved, to 72 births per 1,000 for girls in the 15-19 age group.

This achievement, however, masks the crisis of childbearing among teenagers. Indeed, nearly 54 per cent of all births in Jamaica are the result of teenage and preteen pregnancies, including about one per cent to girls between 12 and 14. Around a third of these pregnancies were wholly unintended.

Pregnancies among teens tend to short-circuit their education and trap them in a cycle of intergenerational poverty. In that regard, we support Minister Thwaites' declared policy of teenage mothers being reintegrated into the formal school system having given birth. Indeed, we applaud the effort of those organisations, in particular the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation, which have long facilitated teenage mothers continuing their education.

These efforts, though, are not enough. The problem ought to be attacked with all available tools if we are to accelerate the wish for a decline in the adolescent birth rates.

Condoms and more

Those tools should also be available to young people, which is why we support the call by the NFPB for them to receive "sexual and reproductive health information and be allowed access to services that will enable them to prevent these undesirable outcomes".

This access should include, but not be limited to, availability of condoms and other birth-control methods in schools, which would be dispensed after appropriate counselling.

The fact is that, despite our best intentions and the messages to delay sex, three quarters of Jamaicans in the 15-19 age group are sexually active. Hopefully, Education Minister Thwaites' new family-life curriculum will lead to a drastic reduction of this ratio.

In the meantime, the problem remains, causing us to find congruence with Ronnie Thwaites' son, Mr Daniel Thwaites, the lawyer/philosopher who contributes regularly to this newspaper.

He proposes the coexistence of information to help students make better value-based decisions about sex and the availability of prophylactics.

Daniel Thwaites wrote: "I reckon that while we continue to explore the outer limits of a society without restraints, young people shouldn't be allowed to fend for themselves in ignorance and without the appropriate tools. There are sharks out there, so swimmers need strong suits."
We agree!

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.
July 12, 2013

Jamacia Gleaner