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Jamaica: High Teen Pregnancy and Sexual Violence Rates

Categories: Caribbean, Jamaica, Health, Women & Gender, Youth

Jamaican GirlsDespite increased awareness of contraception, adolescent pregnancy continues to be a major health problem in Jamaica with 35 percent of Jamaican women having their first pregnancy by age 19. Most of these pregnancies are not planned.

In a study [1] released in March, 94 percent of the pregnant teens interviewed said that their pregnancies were unintended. The same study showed high rates of sexual violence among pregnant and non-pregnant teens. It found that almost half of the 15- to 17-year-old female teens in Kingston, Jamaica, who were interviewed reported experiencing sexual coercion or violence. One-third of these teens said that they had been persuaded or forced to participate in their first sexual experience.

Besides forced sex, UNICEF attributes high teen pregnancy rates in Jamaica to factors [2] such as a low rate of contraceptive use, an early age for sexual initiation, exchanging sex for resources, and poor access to information and skills on safe and responsible sex.

Thinkbass describes this scene she witnessed when working as an intern in a hospital in St. Catherine, Jamaica. She says [3]:

“On a duty night it is a norm for me to see two or three incomplete miscarriages (we do not like the term abortions anymore)…The majority are under 30 years of age with a few being over 40 and an alarming number being under 21 years. The shocking nature of the problem is best understood in short anecdotes.

Age 16 Problem: Incomplete miscarriage

Alarming feature (AF): Asketh the stupid doctor (me) ‘What’s the name of the partner (baby father)?’ A dumb stare then a mumbled ‘Zingy’. I sigh and drop the pen. ‘What’s his real name?’ She looks at me then turns to her mother for help…The mother asks me to wait while she goes outside to ascertain the man’s name. Yes, you understood correctly. She does not even know this man’s name! She has been offering him her young body and his name she does not know. He is at least 30.”

Sasha D., responding to a Jamaica Gleaner blog post, shares [4] her own story of being a pregnant teen. She says the only thing that saved her was her mother:

“At age 17, fresh out of High School, innocent to the world and ignorant of men, I found myself pregnant after partying for one single night. Boyfriend, who had been only just that, took advantage of the fact that he was leaving the island, and I was too drunk to say no! And so after 2 minutes…perhaps seconds..of ruckus…that’s exactly what it was I think….I became pregnant.

Who did I turn to? Mom! Mom was hurt, upset, angry, mad, ashamed even….but she locked it all in, and stood by me….every step of the way. And because of that I got the courage, the inspiration to move on ahead after the baby was born. I went back to school, graduated from college, and went on to University. What if Mom had turned me out? Where would I have gone? What would I have become?”

Sasha D.'s story is apparently not the norm. Only 34 percent [2] of adolescent mothers return to school after giving birth in Jamaica. The March study [1] adds that adolescent pregnancy also contributes to increased maternal and child morbidity and mortality, and a decreased likelihood of mom becoming gainfully employed.

Bob, also responding to the Jamaica Gleaner blog post, proposes one solution to help bring down teen pregnancy rates. He says [4]:

“Most Jamaican parents are so ashamed of their body parts, and their sexuality that they cant discuss sex with their young teenage daughters. And they don’t know that by doing so it will come to bite them in the butt. when you don’t teach your kids how can you blame them?…i urge parent to start teaching their girl children about sex at age 10.”

Others argue that Jamaica's abortion laws need to be loosened, so women and teenage girls have access to safe and legal abortions. A blog post on The Perception and Self-Perception of Women and Their Effects on Health Globally elaborates [5] on these laws:

“Abortion in Jamaica is still a federal crime except in some cases, (governed by an ambiguous “common law”),“(i) significant fetal abnormality; (ii) where pregnancy would represent a threat to the welfare or health of the mother and (iii) in cases where pregnancy is an outcome of rape or incest;” however, as of 2004, the third leading cause of maternal mortality in Jamaica was unsafe abortions.”

Jamaican Gordon Swaby blogs about his belief that abortion should be legalized in Jamaica. He says [6]:

“Who the hell decides what i can and cannot do with an unborn child, it’s rubbish i tell you. So many children are being born in unprepared and immature families. These idiots prefer a child to be born and end up on the streets because their parents could not take care of them, and it’s not like the state has an effective system in place to take care of these children…if they are going to make the decision not to legalize abortion in Jamaica, don’t do it on a religious basis, do it on a logical one.”

Other solutions the study suggests [1] to combat teen pregnancy include encouraging adolescents to delay when they first have sex and discouraging multiple partnerships. It also says that gender-based violence needs to be addressed at the community level.

Thinkbass adds that women and girls also need to start respecting themselves. She says [3]:

“There are many pregnant teenagers with their soon to be 30 year old grandmothers. There are many women on their fifth or more pregnancy and desirous of more – cause ‘di man wan’ more. A few HIV positive mothers NOT in their first pregnancy (one was in her ninth). And I am amused. For in the last hours they are all screaming and calling to God for help. One even asking what she did to deserve this! But never once have I heard any of them scream: ‘Never again. Ah doan want no more.’

When did our women become receptacles, dumping grounds for men’s sperms? When was it legalised for us to insult our bodies with effluence? When did we decide it was ‘ok’ for us to torture our flowers at young ages with penises too brutal and babies too big? When did men rule our bodies? How is it that what they want is gospel even if it means our death?”

Photo of Jamaican Girls [7] by marco annunziata [8] on Flickr.