Beryl Weir

The problem of adolescent paternity (and maternity for that matter) is an example of both ignorance and prejudice.  Ignorance because many of us still do not know what adolescent is all about, prejudice because although we see and hear we choose to remain blind and deaf.”  (quote from Prof. Barry Chevannes presentation self – discovery and adolescent fathers at a workshop, September 28, 2000).  This statement highlights two of the major problems we face when dealing with teen parents especially teenager fathers.  The ignorance of the adolescent male as it regards his Sexual and Reproductive Health, parenting (what it means to be a father as opposed to a sperm donor) and the laws which govern his rights as a human being is pervasive in our Jamaica society.  The prejudice and judgemental attitude of many parents, counsellors and other service providers discourage the adolescents from seeking information and accessing services that would assist them to delay early sexual initiation (abstinence) or practice safe sex thereby delaying early parenting.


Since 1978, the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) operates the programme for adolescent mothers 17 year and under who become pregnant whilst attending school.  Through the programme activities at the 7 main Centres and 9 Outreach Stations island wide, young mothers can continue their education during pregnancy and are reintegrated into the formal school system after their babies are born.  The programme focuses on education, training and developmental counselling.  During the 24 years of its existence, Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation has assisted 27,854 young mothers many of whom are now professionals in their chosen field.


Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation has, since its inception, tried to maintain a balanced gender perspective.  Young fathers (many of whom were themselves attending school at the time of the girls’ pregnancy) are counselled and encouraged to play an active role in the lives of their children.  However, the issues of Sexual and Reproductive Health could not be dealt with adequately in a “one time” counselling session.  Recognising the need for a formal programme to address these and other issues, the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation sought and receive funding in 1999 to implement the present programme for “Young Men at Risk” which is offered at all main Centres Island wide.  The subjects offered are Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights,  laws affecting relationships especially the age of consent law, safe sex including STI/HIV/AIDS, Parenting Skills, Mathematic, English and a skill e.g. tailoring, electrical installation, technical drawing.


In the Jamaican culture boys are expected to show masculinity by being tough (they should not be a “cry baby” or show interest in girl’s stuff.  If they do, they are called sissy).  They are encouraged to start having sex at an early age and often receive praise when they do.  The 1997 Reproductive Health Survey conducted by the National Family Planning Board reported that the mean age for first sexual intercourse for boys in the age group 15 to 17 years was 12.4 years and 14.7 years, for girls.  In some case the boy began having sex as early as age 8 years.  These findings substantiate the arguments put forward by the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation over the years, that the fathers of our teen mothers babies are in the majority teenagers themselves.  Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation data on baby fathers show that 8 out of every 10 baby fathers are adolescent 14-19 years.  The average age of baby fathers is 23 years.


We recognise that our young fathers are often confused as to their parenting role.  Many have no relationship with their fathers or other responsible male to use as role models.  They are on the one hand encouraged to have sex but have no knowledge of sexual or reproductive health or contraceptive including condom use.  In some cases they thought they were too young to get a girl pregnant.  They have not completed secondary level education and have no skill, yet they are expected to contribute financially to their children’s upbringing.  In many instances they are not allowed to have any contact with the girl or her baby.


Findings from a recently concluded Tracer Study by Youth.now, USAID of baby fathers at two of our Women’s Centre revealed that:

1)     the boys whose fathers were actively involved in their lives share a special bond that was sadly lacking in the case of transient or absent father,

2)     Others felt that their lives would be better if their father had played his role as a parent in their upbringing,

3)     Still others regret the loss of opportunity to gain meaningful employment because they are uneducated and unskilled.

It is said repeatedly that the Jamaican male is marginalized as regards academic and technical education.  This marginalization follows through to sex education.  We really need to accelerate programmes and policies, which will provide our young people with factual and accurate information regarding reproductive and sexual health (including contraceptive, STI/HIV/AIDS) and rights.


A special effort must be made in the case of our boys as they have been left behind, so to speak.  Girls, because of menstruation will always learn from other females, but boys often have no male to teach them what growing up to manhood is all about.


·        Education must begin during the process of socialization through all agents but especially in the home

·        Parents should take responsibility to teach their sons as well as their daughters about sexual issues

·        Schools should be more creative in their approach and base reproductive health education on the reality that exists in our society and the gaping adequacies in our education of our young.  This should include responsibilities of both woman and man in the relationship and the duty of the man to his off-spring.

October 18, 2002

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