“I became pregnant at 14 years old,” Angie told the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Now 19, she lives with her son in a low-income area on the margins of Peru's capital, Lima, in the densely populated Villa El Salvador District.
Angie recalls that she did not have the information she needed to avoid pregnancy.
“I did not know about contraceptive methods. At high school, I still had not been given talks.”
As we read Angie's story on the UNFPA website, it struck us just how fortunate Jamaica's adolescents are whether or not they realise it. A common thread linking adolescent pregnancy worldwide is the lack of information, health care services that do not meet their needs, and poor socio-economic circumstances.
Think about it. South America really isn't that far away, but it is difficult to imagine that in this day and age, high schoolers are not exposed to information as crucial as avoiding pregnancy and this exclusion blankets them in ignorance and steers them on a course that can change their lives for the worse.
Considering that ours is not a society where there are restrictions on either sex attending school, and/or being exposed to the health and family life education syllabus, we should ensure that every adolescent is made aware of the opportunity and knowledge that is widely available, grabs it, and runs with it so as to realise their goals.
To help direct students, some schools already have the Hold-On-Hold-Off, Abstain, Get the Skills Intervention Programme (or Hold-On-Hold-Off Programme) which was conceptualised and established in 2009 by the National HIV/STI Response and the National Family Planning Board (NFPB). This was with the general goal of promoting the importance of abstinence as a viable option for teenage students. Appearances by the NFPB's counselling staff at schools and community events have undoubtedly allowed for further information acquisition and sharing. Millions of dollars have been spent on mass media advertising to reach large numbers of adolescents and young people of childbearing age to arm them with this necessary guidance.
If they never thought it applied to them before, then having an appreciation of Angie's situation may just be the formula for them to sit up and pay attention to what several government and private sector companies have been trying to tell them all along.
Knowledge of their anatomy and physiology, contraceptive methods and how they work for maximum effectiveness in pregnancy prevention, knowledge of condom use, avoidance of sexually transmitted infections, and identifying ways of engaging in overall responsible behaviours are all rightfully available to Jamaica's adolescent population within the school setting.