by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- Education Act does not prohibit reintegration of teenage mothers into formal school system
- Young mothers should be allowed to continue education
- Majority of under 16s who become pregnant, are impregnated by much older men
In 2018 stigma and discrimination against teenage mothers continue to permeate within society. Pregnancy remains the highest risk factor for female high school dropout in Grenada. Despite the Education Act not prohibiting the reintegration of teenage mothers into the formal school system, a societal barrier prevents this from occurring.
This is the view of Natasha Thomas-Victor, one of the first batch of 18 students who graduated from the Programme for Adolescent Mothers Inc (PAM) in 1997.
Acting Director of The Legal Aid and Counselling Clinic, Tyrone Buckmire said, “We believe that young women in Grenada who become pregnant while in school should have the opportunity to return to school, and in the best-case scenario return to the school that they were originally attending prior to becoming pregnant. However, there are some realities that may get in the way of that.”
“Initially…when the school for adolescent mothers was established in 1995 many felt that you have a place to send them now, so they really shouldn’t go back to school. But we do not believe the Programme for Adolescent Mothers [should be] used as an excuse to debar any young women who want to return to either the school she originally attended or to another secondary school other than the Programme for Adolescent Mothers. However, as I said there are some realities that mitigate against that,” said Buckmire.
Buckmire said there have been some cases where teenage mothers successfully integrated into the formal education system under the radar. The challenge prohibiting this process normally stems from the parents and principals themselves who believe in an age-old myth that the other students would become corrupted.
“It has successfully happened so there is nothing to say that it shouldn’t or cannot happen. However, when we started trying to do this, there was a lot of flashbacks and some push-back came from parents who felt that if you put somebody who had a baby back in school with their children, then somehow their children will be corrupted, which is nonsense. Another issue had to do with many principals who were uncomfortable with the idea, because they felt that a school that has hundreds of young people attending school, if one got pregnant should they then take this one back and run the risk that other children might be influenced. However, I hope this attitude has changed.”
Buckmire admits that the process of reintegration is extremely difficult and psychologically traumatic for the teenage mothers. “One of the major challenges in this regard is the fact that for the women themselves, it is difficult to reintegrate because many of them not only have the challenge now of having to go back to school in an environment where they will be scorned or stigma attached to them, where their peers might look at them in a certain way. I have spoken to women just about the idea of reintegrating into the formal school system and some of them say that they don’t want to because they don’t want to have to deal with the pressures that may be brought upon them by their peers, and sometimes their teachers and principals, and of course from people in the public.”
Buckmire is of the view that if a young father is allowed to continue his education, then the young mother should be extended the same courtesy.
“I would like to believe that in 2018 we are in a place where we understand that for the majority of young women who become pregnant while in school it is not because they are wicked, and they went out to get pregnant. We must recognise a bigger part of that equation which is for the majority of young women that become pregnant, they get pregnant under the age of 16 by men who are much older than them and therefore a crime has been committed and we need to focus on that rather than stigmatise and criminalise the young women.”
He continued, “We need to look at who are the young men who are causing these pregnancies and what is happening to them; and even if the pregnancy is caused by a peer of the young lady who is within her age group, the argument is that he always gets an opportunity to continue his education in the school system. So the belief that she should as well.”
Buckmire admits changes must be made to the formal school system to accommodate young mothers including providing daycare centres and counselling to deal with added pressure. “To a young woman going back into the formal school system, the schools may not be equipped and then she would have to think about placing the child in daycare and the expenses that come with that, but I don’t think any of these things should automatically be used to say she should not be given the opportunity.”
Former Minister for Education Franka Alexis-Bernardine while working alongside the Coalition on the Rights of the Child and the Grenada Save the Children Development Agency (GRENSAVE) was very instrumental in helping to establish the UNDP funded Project Program for Adolescent Mothers (PAM) which opened its doors in April 1995.
Thomas-Victor recounted having to face tremendous societal pressure and stigma after getting pregnant at the age of 15 while attending Anglican High School. “One of the most terrible experiences we had at PAM was when it came time to sit our exams CXC and GCE. Actually, we did it in the first year in PAM which normally takes two years but Ms [Franka] Bernardine felt that we were able to do it so when time to sit the exams, she went through a bit of a struggle because no school basically wanted us to sit with the students. But I wouldn’t say the school so much as the parents because they saw us as a stain, however, I am a woman that doesn’t give up. Eventually we got to sit some at the GBSS and some at Happy Hill Secondary, and I am really grateful for these schools that accepted us because a lot of us were really successful. We also did food and nutrition at TAMCC but the parents were dead set against it, but Ms Bernardine is the kind of person that doesn’t give up and we as the students were taught that we should not give up.”
Thomas-Victor is of the view that the stigma still exists in today’s society. “I do believe that the stigma still exists more so now because it has been instilled in our foreparents who passed it down to their children that it is wrong for a young person to get pregnant.”
Elaine Henry-McQueen, Senior Programme Officer, Gender and Family Affairs at the Ministry of Social Development is also concerned about societal stigma against teenage pregnancy and the effects it will have on young mothers.
Recognising the barriers preventing young mothers from accessing formal education, Henry-McQueen said these issues must be addressed as the consultative process towards developing a National Sustainable Plan 2030 continues.
She said the draft policy that speaks to having teenage mothers attend PAM for a period of time until they are ready to be reintegrated into the formal school system, must be resurrected and enacted. “PAM is meant to be a programme that is for a few months for every child and after she would have given birth and she is able to go back to a school — similar to a period of maternity for someone who is working. She can then go back to her regular school and therefore I believe that the policy should be resurrected and should be taken as a firm policy… that is the only way we will really get the full education of all girls who have been teenage mothers.”
Thomas-Victor hopes the discrimination against teenage mothers becomes a thing of the past and believes that if a young mother decides to be reintegrated into the formal school then there shouldn’t be any obstacles preventing her from doing so.
According to statistics from the Central Statistical Office, teenage pregnancy has been on the decline. In 2016, 164 births were recorded from mothers between the ages of 15 to 19 with only 3 births recorded from teenage mothers under the age of 15. In 2017 that figure decreased slightly to 124 births from mothers between15 to 19 with only 2 births from mothers under the age of 15. To date, one of the highest numbers of live births was recorded in 2010 with 224 babies born to mothers between 15 to19 with only 3 births from mothers under the age of 15.
It is important to note that these figures only represent the number of live births in Grenada and does not take into account the number of births from Grenadian mothers outside of Grenada.
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