Official fears under-reporting of teen pregnancies

GLOBALLY the pandemic has seen a rise in the number of unwanted pregnancies but administrators at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) are concerned that there is under-reporting of teen pregnancies since the onset of COVID-19.

Director of field operations at WCJF, Beverley Martin Berry told the Jamaica Observer that registration has decreased but there is the possibility that the absence of face-to-face classes has shielded girls from having to enrol at the Women’s Centre.

“We’ve seen where our numbers have not been where they were and I don’t think it’s because girls are not pregnant; I think they are being masked under the pandemic context. The pandemic context is schools are online, some schools are using the learner kit approach, some schools are doing the blended approach – online, learner kit, media lessons – like what we are doing. So, it doesn’t warrant a face-to-face, it doesn’t warrant me [a pregnant teen] to put on my uniform and go to school. No one will know that I am pregnant and it won’t create any uproar anyway,” Martin Berry told the Sunday Observer.

To further illustrate the issue, the WCJF director gave the example of the recent case of a high school in Kingston that wanted to transfer a girl to WCJF for CSEC.

Martin Berry said after the WCJF had a conversation with the school and explained the process they have adopted in the pandemic, the school decided to keep the student.

“Our registration is impacted by the pandemic based on the fact that we can’t do recruitment. Our recruitment process takes in home visits and clinic visits, which we are not doing this time based on the pandemic,” Martin-Berry said. “If a pregnancy is reported to us and the girl doesn’t turn up, under the normal circumstances we would have gone to find her at her home. That can’t happen again, so it’s very hard to say whether it’s up or down.”

Meanwhile, Martin Berry said the initial struggle to cope has remained the same throughout the pandemic.

“The emotions remain the same. They say, I’m going to disappoint my parents, is this something I want now? The sadness is there – can I deal with this, how am I going to manage, especially now with the pandemic. The worry of facing parents still remain,” she said.

But the WCJF has remodelled its support services to help the teenage mothers by implementing a telecounselling service to maintain contact with their adolescent mothers via telephone. Conversations are also had with the girls when they pick up their academic instruction kits.

In instances, individual counselling sessions and engagements with parents are held, plus specialist counselling that is done by referral. The girls are also still supported with welfare packages made possible through the various partnerships the WCJF has with the private sector, individuals and service clubs.

Further, Martin Berry said the WCJF continues to collaborate and identify projects with its other stakeholders to include the National Family Planning Board and the ministries of health, education and justice to ensure the girls are protected and supported to prevent teen pregnancies, and second pregnancies among the rehabilitated girls.

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