Photo: Jamaica Loop. Jamaica national ladies soccer team member Marlo Sweatman talks to a girl during one of the series of activities organized by Government for the Reggae Girlz.

KINGSTON, Jamaica–November 29th,2020–HIV/AIDS Officer at the United Nations Population Fund Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, Dr. Denise Chevannes, is urging interested parties to focus on adolescent pregnancy prevention, as one of the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She noted that COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem of adolescent pregnancy and has left more girls susceptible to teenage pregnancy.

Dr. Chevannes claimed that Jamaica has the third-highest adolescent pregnancy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, adding that the closing schools is likely to make that situtation even worse.

“There is also a concern that the closure of schools will cause even more girls to drop out of schools and the interruption in schools is also likely to increase domestic responsibilities for girls and leads to a premature shift towards income generation,” she said.

“Moreover, outside of the protective environment provided by schools, many girls are more susceptible to adolescent pregnancy and gender-based violence,” Dr. Chevannes added.

She was speaking at the virtual staging of the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) annual Pamela McNeil lecture on November 27, which was held under the theme ‘Adolescent Pregnancy: Reducing the Rate within the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic’.

Dr. Chevannes also shared with the audience several impacts that the pandemic has had on the adolescent pregnancy.

Included among them are limited access to contraceptives and other family planning services which can result in an unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion; and limited access to age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education due to the closure of schools and other vocational centers.

Other impacts include a lack of access to health facilities and services because of movement restrictions caused by COVID 19 or due to the fear of being exposed to COVID-19, as well as the diversion of clinical staff to deal with COVID-19 related health issues.

“In Jamaica, in particular where we have, as many as 20 percent of the population in adolescence, the health of this group of individuals has important implication for the health and well-being of the nation,” Dr. Chevannes said.

However, in addressing adolescent pregnancy she said it will not be a “one size fit all” approach.

The country, she said will have to design an intervention that takes into account the different categories of vulnerable groups that exist within the adolescent population, as well as their sexual orientation and gender identities.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the Hon. Alando Terrelonge is also urging young people not to surrender to social pressure to become parents early, or to have children by a certain age, to fit in with society’s expectations.

Instead, he is encouraging them to empower themselves and to ensure that they wait until they are mentally, financially, and emotionally ready to become a parent.

“We need our young men to understand that having a child at 18, 19 or 21 does not make you a man, what makes you a man is focusing on your education and putting yourself in a position where you can take care of a family and that is what makes you a woman as well,” Mr. Terrelonge said.

That’s what he said at the virtual staging of the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) annual Pamela McNeil lecture on November 27, which was held under the theme ‘Adolescent Pregnancy: Reducing the Rate within the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic’.

Mr. Terrelonge stressed that too much pressure is being placed on young people to engage in sexual activities at an early age and to become parents. He did not state exactly who is applying the pressure and what might be done about the problem.

“Certainly nobody is telling anybody that they can’t have six children [or] seven children. What we are saying is have the number that you can afford, not just financially but emotionally as well and in terms of your time,” he explained.