HIGH-SCHOOL MOMS

Hard­ship forc­ing Claren­don girls into teenage preg­nancy

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Ryon Jones Staff Reporter

KEL­LITS HIGH School in Claren­don is among sev­eral ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions strug­gling with the grow­ing trend of girls drop­ping out be­cause of un­der­age preg­nancy.

Over the past two years, 20 girls have quit the ru­ral school to be­come moth­ers, which has be­come a ma­jor con­cern for the school ad­min­is­tra­tion as they seek to im­ple­ment strate­gies to stem the prob­lem.

Like other schools across Ja­maica faced with this chal­lenge, they are also work­ing with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to in­sti­tute a num­ber of ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing rein­te­grat­ing the girls af­ter the child is born and adding to the cur­ricu­lum pro­grammes fo­cus­ing on the pit­falls of teenage preg­nancy.

But the school ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves that un­less the so­cial chal­lenges that the girls face in the parish are ad­dressed, their ef­forts will be for naught and more and more girls will be caught in the same trap. Poverty and hard­ship, they said, have forced many of the stu­dents to work or hus­tle for sur­vival, with some girls turn­ing to older men for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, which in turn lead to an un­de­sired com­pro­mise.

In fact, within the first three months of this school year, 11 girls were forced to leave Kel­lits High be­cause of preg­nancy, adding to the nine who dropped out for the same rea­son last year.

“Those are stu­dents who at­tended school last year and were to come back this year but didn’t be­cause they are preg­nant,” Kel­lits High School’s prin­ci­pal, Texal Christie, told The Sun­day Gleaner.

“Some of them ac­tu­ally started the new school year, but then per­sons came and told us they are not com­ing back due to preg­nancy.”

The 11 young moth­ers are among 63 stu­dents who have not re­turned to the school for the cur­rent aca­demic year, as the pop­u­la­tion fell from 1,021 last school year to now 922. Fi­nan­cial rea­sons ac­counted for 33 of the absentees, nine have trans­ferred to other in­sti­tu­tions, eight turn up

oc­ca­sion­ally and two have migrated.

Christie fears that based on the trend, more girls could get preg­nant and quit school within the com­ing months.

“It might get worse be­cause there might be some in the sys­tem who might drop out be­fore the end of the (school) year,” the prin­ci­pal said. “Last year, be­fore ex­am­i­na­tions, two dropped out, and this is the be­gin­ning of the term, so you will have oth­ers who drop out be­fore the end of the (school) year.”

The ma­jor­ity of the 63 stu­dents drop­ping out are those who would be en­ter­ing grade 11 (13 fe­males and five males) and pre­par­ing to sit the Caribbean Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion Cer­tifi­cate (CSEC) ex­ams next year. There were also 17 from grade 10, grade nine (16), grade eight (seven) and five from grade seven.

HARD­SHIP FORCES HUS­TLING

“Why you find it like this is that these are the ones who will go and find work; do a lit­tle hus­tling on the farm and all that,” Christie ex­plained.

“The younger ones will come be­cause their par­ents will make sure, but once they reach grade 10, that is where they prob­a­bly have to start hus­tling and there is where they now be­come easy tar­gets, so you are go­ing to have a greater rate of preg­nancy.”

Kel­lits High School’s guid­ance coun­sel­lor, Faith By­field, said the sit­u­a­tion is not unique to that in­sti­tu­tion, as the economic hard­ship in the Claren­don north di­vi­sion has seen stu­dents drop­ping out from other schools.

“A lot of the times what causes the preg­nancy in the first place is poverty be­cause a lot of them have to do bar­ter­ing and all of this to come to school, and it ends up in preg­nancy,” said By­field.

“So when they are com­ing back to school af­ter hav­ing the child, the poverty is go­ing to es­ca­late, be­cause they now have a child to take care of and them­selves.

Some­times it pushes them not to come back be­cause they can’t find any­body to as­sist them with the child.”

Ef­forts are made to get the girls who dropout due to preg­nancy into weekly Fri­day classes at the school’s mini women’s cen­tre, which is ran in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the lo­cal health cen­tre. There, they are taught math­e­mat­ics, English, so­cial stud­ies, and a sci­ence sub­ject.

They are then al­lowed to re­sume reg­u­lar classes at the

school af­ter giv­ing birth, pick­ing up from the grade they were in when they got preg­nant.

“If they drop out with the baby in grade eight, they will come back and re­peat grade eight,” By­field ex­plained.

“One of the stip­u­la­tions that we have for them to be rein­te­grated is that they can’t be liv­ing with the fathers of the chil­dren, be­cause that would send a wrong sig­nal to the girls that we have here who are not dropouts.”

While there have been some success sto­ries, with two moth­ers hav­ing com­pleted sixth form last aca­demic year and moved on to ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions, not all the young moth­ers have fared as well.

“We have one girl who ended up hav­ing two chil­dren be­fore she was rein­te­grated. She dropped out in grade eight, had one baby, and by the time we

could get her back she had an­other child and ended up drop­ping out again, be­cause there was no­body there to stand up with her and the two chil­dren,” By­field dis­closed.

“She was to go into grade 10 this Septem­ber, but she stopped com­ing again be­cause she has to do her lit­tle do­mes­tic work, as there is no fa­ther fig­ure in the home at all.”

WON’T IDEN­TIFY FATHERS

An­other chal­lenge that the school faces is that the young moth­ers are most times un­will­ing to re­veal the names of the fathers of their chil­dren, in an ef­fort not to land them in trou­ble with the law for hav­ing had

sex with a mi­nor.

“They are so aware of the Child Care and Pro­tec­tion Act that they will not name these in­di­vid­u­als. Some of them are preg­nant for school­boys, but some of the fathers are big­ger men in the com­mu­ni­ties,” By­field high­lighted.

“They rather take the blame on them­selves than to iden­tify who these in­di­vid­u­als are, with some pre­fer­ring to say they got raped and don’t know who is the fa­ther.”

She added, “One mother said to me ‘then when mi send the fa­ther go a prison, teacher, a me a go mine the pick­ney mi­s­elf’?”

Faith By­field, guid­ance coun­sel­lor, Kel­lits High School, Claren­don.

Kel­lits High School, Claren­don.

Prin­ci­pal Texal Christie, Kel­lits High School, Claren­don.

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