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Opposition wants second chance for pregnant schoolgirls

Don't expel them!; Senator wants pregnant teens to be readmitted to school

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 23, 2013    

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OPPOSITION Senator Kamina Johnson Smith wants an amendment to the Education Act Regulations which mandate expulsion of pregnant schoolgirls.

Senator Johnson Smith says these girls are entitled to complete their formal education at the secondary level.

"Empirical data shows that without intervention, girls who get pregnant are less likely to fulfil their academic and economical potential and that of their children, and this ensures their individual detriment as well as the overall detriment of national development," she contended.

Senator Johnson Smith, a second-generation senator who is the daughter of former leader of Opposition business in the Senate, Anthony Johnson, made the appeal in a motion tabled yesterday.

Her motion pointed to the importance of education for personal economic mobility as well as being fundamental to national development.

She also noted that unemployed women in Jamaica have numbered almost twice as many as unemployed men, and that for more than 10 years almost 20 per cent of live births have been to adolescent women between 10 and 19.

She pointed out that the regulations to the Education Act "compel" expulsion from school of adolescent girls who become pregnant, but do not mandate their readmission into the formal education system.

She said, too, that the regulations provide no consequence for the male involved in the pregnancy, "which is in itself discriminatory, on the basis of gender and, accordingly, contravenes the principles of non-discrimination set out in Section 13 of the Constitution of Jamaica".

"Be it resolved that this Honourable Senate calls upon the Government to amend Section 31 of the Regulations to the Education Act, in such terms as will ensure that every Jamaican girl, regardless of circumstance, is entitled to completion of her formal education at the secondary level," the motion said.

Regulation 31 (2) of the Education Act says: "A student of a public educational institution who becomes pregnant shall be excluded from attending the institution during the period of pregnancy, but the minister may take such steps as may be necessary to permit her to continue her education in that institution or, if convenient, in another public educational institution.

And according to Regulation 31 (3): "Arrangements may be made to enable students who have been suspended, or excluded from school or pregnancy or other health reasons to sit important examinations in connection with the completion of their education."

It was the second set of social issues tackled by Senator Johnson Smith in motions in the Senate over the past two weeks.

Last week she tabled a motion asking that a joint select committee be convened to consider amendments to the Offences Against the Persons Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Child Care and Protection Act, with a view specifically to redefining or augmenting as appropriate offences and punishments to be applied to: the murder of pregnant women; the murder of children; sexual offences against children; the abduction of children; "and such violent crimes perpetrated against women, children and the elderly, as may be deemed by the committee to be relevant to such a review".

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