Last week I had the privilege of spending a morning at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica in Kingston. The Women’s Centre is a high school for adolescent mothers that are seventeen years and under. In Jamaica, adolescents cannot attend regular high school when they become pregnant. They must attend this separate institution. The Women’s Centre has 13 centres all across the island.
In the month of December, I gave two separate workshops at the Women’s Centre in St. Ann, a northern and more rural region of Jamaica. This time, I was at the Women’s Centre in Kingston. Instead of giving workshops on sexual and reproductive health, I had the opportunity to sit in on a social studies class, and to speak with some of the students, counselors, and teachers. I also had the chance to peek in to the nurseries and see all the beautiful babies!
A huge advantage of the Women’s Centre is that it offers a lot of important resources to young mothers, and it allows these young mothers easy access to said resources. These include counseling and referral services, nutritional education and support (including free lunch and breakfast if necessary), and access to a nursery so mothers can return to school not too long after their pregnancy while remaining in very close proximity to their babies. The Centre also provides family planning education.
With that said, my opinion is that forcing young women who are pregnant to go to a separate school reinforces stigma and shame that is commonly associated with teen pregnancy. While I believe that educating young women and making this as accessible as possible is crucial for empowering them, I also think that attending the Women’s Centre instead of a regular high school should be a choice – and not something forced on those who become pregnant at a young age.
Jamaica has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the Caribbean region. In a country where abortion is illegal and access to contraceptives is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 unless they have parental consent, programs like this are crucial in order for teen pregnancy to be as healthy as possible, and to ensure that pregnancy at a young age does not limit the potential of bright and talented young women.