The Women's Centre of Jamaica
When a girl becomes pregnant in Jamaica she is forced to drop out of the formal school system. Without an education, life can soon become a downward spiral where she is trapped in poverty. Every year, 1250 school-aged girls come to the Women's Centre of Jamaica where they are given a second chance. Here they can continue their studies while pregnant, receive counselling, mentorship, and training in practical trades like cooking and housekeeping, to increase the chance of finding work on graduation. After giving birth they can finish the school year while their babies are cared for in a nursery next door.
(All photos published with permission. All girls with faces visible are over age 17.)
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Teen pregnancy in Jamaica is much higher than the global average and mostly affects girls from rural and inner-city communities plagued by poverty, crime, gang violence, and where one or both parents is absent, usually the father.
Girls become pregnant at a young age for a myriad of reasons. Sex-education in Jamaica is not adequate, and many girls by the age of puberty haven’t been taught the basics about reproduction. They do not know they can get pregnant from just one time and are shocked and even suicidal to find out they ended up pregnant from having sex the very first time.
Despite the Christian values that guide Jamaican government policies, there are contradictory cultural norms that put extreme pressure on both girls and boys to have sex early and have multiple partners. Most girls become pregnant from a high school boyfriend; but research shows that 50% of girls’ first time is forced or unwanted. Once pregnant, there is no way out, as abortion is illegal.
Under the Sexual Offences Act it is illegal to engage in sexual activity before age 16. Therefore, even peer-to-peer sex is considered a crime. For this reason, teachers are reluctant to provide sex education to under-age teens, and birth control is nearly impossible to access. A teen mother is often reluctant to name the father of the baby, for fear he may be criminally charged.
In 2013 a policy passed which allows teen moms to reintegrate into the public school system after they have left the Women's Centre. Prior to this law, re-admission was usually prohibited due to the widespread stigma of teen pregnancy.
There are currently 18 outreach centres across the island of Jamaica which in total enrol 1250 girls each year. Half of those girls are under 16.