The Minister was speaking on Sunday, January 21 at a Church Service held at the Boulevard Baptist Church, to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation.
The Centre was set up to enable teenage girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy to continue their schooling.
According to her, “the Women’s Centre has been removing the major obstacles that seek to prevent adolescent mothers from leading successful lives” and “has helped more than 46 thousand adolescent mothers.”
“Despite the successes women who become pregnant as teenagers continue to face a lingering challenge — and that is a stigma. Whatever the circumstances of a teenaged pregnancy, a formidable combination of relatives, institutions such as schools and the church, social and cultural norms usually conspire — wittingly or otherwise — to blame the girl and block her path forward.”
It is against that background that the Minister is calling for a change in how teenage mothers are treated.
“We need to embrace those who have made an effort to better their lives. The Government can establish the Women’s Centre to enable pregnant teenagers to continue their education. Unfortunately, we cannot establish an agency to eliminate the stigma that surrounds teenage pregnancy.”
According to Minister Grange, “Forty years ago, teenage pregnancy meant a dead end, a future of misery, a life of poverty, exclusion and dependence. The pregnant teenager’s education would come to an end and her job prospects would disappear”. This she said was before the Women’s Centre was established.
Minister Grange credited the success of the girls in the Women’s Centre programme and their children to the support that they have received from the staff and other stakeholders.
She said that the support of teenage pregnancy is often misunderstood. “Giving tender, loving, care to a pregnant teenager is not an endorsement of teenaged pregnancy. Neither is it encouragement for teenagers to have children. In fact, the majority of adolescent mothers who enter the Women’s Centre’s programme delay having a second pregnancy until much later in their lives.”
Minister Grange said that, “each year, across the world, 16 million vulnerable girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth to babies who become equally — if not more — vulnerable. The estimated 16 million births by teenagers represent a global adolescent birth rate of 44 per 1,000 girls.”
She said that in Jamaica the adolescent birth rate has fallen from a high of 129 per 1,000 girls in 1985 to 60 per 1,000 girls in 2015 and credited the Women’s Centre for helping to reduce teenage pregnancy.
Minister Grange also highlighted that the Women’s Centre programme has been recognised worldwide “as a model for preventing adolescent pregnancy and supporting young mothers”.
To date, Jamaica’s Women’s Centre programme has been replicated in Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guyana and Kenya.