For these girls becoming pregnant can be so confusing, and lonely.
At the beginning of COVID-19, I paid tribute to one of my students at her funeral. She left behind her son to the care of his great grandmother.
This teen mother was only 13 years old – a loss that has been both heart-breaking but also a motivation for me as a counsellor at the Women’s Centre to do more to help the young mothers overcome their life’s challenges, and lead productive lives.
In my job I wear many hats. As much as I am there to guide and empower them, to do that I must first empathise with them – to understand what they are going through. In doing so, it really hurts to see the way these girls come under public scrutiny and are being bashed by members of society.
They are still children
The stigma that is placed on these girls is quite disturbing and appalling. Contrary to how it appears, some are very much innocent; not all teen mothers participated in consensual sex. There are girls who were victimised but instead of being supported and protected, they are being ridiculed. I want to put this out there that these teen mothers are still this society’s children.
The overall lack of knowledge about reproductive health can cause teenage pregnancy, especially when teenagers are so curious about sex. In our culture sex is not a topic of discussion and teens tend to influence each other with the limited knowledge they possess.
Truth be told, a great number of our population at the Centre are from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This has put them at a further disadvantage during the pandemic as they cannot adequately access online learning. It is perturbing to think of the ill-effects this may have on our students.
Inspired by their bravery
What I miss most though is the face-to-face classes and being able to interact in person to put a smile on their faces. They really lack access to many things generally and with COVID-19 I was scared for them – about them being further left behind.
In St Ann, the tourism industry was gravely impacted and some of their parents lost their jobs. Even family members overseas who would normally send remittances have also lost jobs.
Yet through all this these girls are showing their resilience. Whenever I speak with them, they’ll be like, ‘We’re OK, we’re going on and we make ends meet.’ Kudos to them because this is remarkable. They have become so much more mature and look at life a different way.
Mentally some of them are actually in a good place. These girls are stronger than we give them credit for.
Counselling is 24/7 work
I always extend myself to my students; I am only a telephone or text message away. I use a work mobile device thanks to UNICEF, and with support the Women’s Centre has strategically repositioned its Counsellors to respond to the needs of our teen mothers.
I work with girls from St. Ann, St. Mary and Trelawny. Despite the poor conditions of the road we still visited them to deliver academic materials and other personal items.
Nowadays it’s even more special when I get to see the girls. Loads of screaming and excitement; and that’s what keeps me going – that certain type of joy knowing that this too shall pass.
What’s UNICEF doing?
During COVID-19 through UNICEF, the Spotlight Initiative in Jamaica is providing support to the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation, operating under the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, to ensure adolescent mothers continue to receive psychosocial and educational support from WCJF counsellors during the COVID-19 pandemic. This support focused on the provision of Psychological First Aid training and equipment (phones, laptops, tablets, data plans) to WCJF counsellors serving 400 adolescent mothers, particularly those preparing for their final secondary education examinations.