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(GUYANA NEWSROOM) – With 6,937 adolescent pregnancies recorded two years ago, the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a programme to reintegrate teenaged mothers into schools.
Labelled the ‘National Policy for the Reintegration of Adolescent Mothers into the Formal School System’, the policy framework document was launched Monday afternoon at the National Center for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) at Kingston, Georgetown.
Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that during the period 2013 to 2016, only 29 teenage mothers were reintegrated into schools. The policy document noted that the previous reintegration effort was inadequate.
This new policy now makes it mandatory for schools to provide a safe environment for teenage mothers to continue their schooling.
The document outlines how the Government, school administrations, parents and the children involved are to proceed upon the discovery that a female teenager is pregnant.
The system allows for the pregnant adolescent to access adequate antenatal and postnatal care and prepare them for the reintegration into the school system post pregnancy. It caters for situations where the newborn would have died, been given up for adoption or being kept by the teen mother.
Counselling is mandatory throughout the entire process to both the teen mother and the teen father. In cases where the teen mother is below the legal age of consent which is sixteen and in cases where the father is an adult, the law comes into force.
The report also recommends the establishment of a database to track the progress of students who are reintegrated into the school system. This process of data collection should involve the Ministries of Education, Social Protection and Health.
Chief Education Officer (CEO) Marcel Hutston explained that the goal of the policy is not only to provide a proper reintegration process for pregnant adolescents but to also reduce the instances of teenage pregnancy.
He said the policy includes a component that raises awareness about teenage pregnancy and to educate students and parents on sexual education, health and wellbeing.
UNICEF Country Representative Sylvie Fouet remarked that this policy represents an important milestone for Guyana as it outlines a comprehensive approach to ensure teen mother get a second opportunity to go back to school and to receive the necessary community and medical support.
She lamented that in Guyana, teenage pregnancy is between 20% to 22% for girls below the age of 19 – years. Guyana is reported to have the second highest rate in teenage pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean, the UNICEF representative noted.
First Lady Sandra Granger, who delivered the feature address at the simple ceremony, noted that as a country, there needs to be more frank discussions on social ills like teenage pregnancy.
Mrs Granger revealed that girls as young as 11 and 12 – years old are becoming pregnant, and not through their own will.
She said in some cases, young girls are trafficked for sexual labour and in others, they are “sacrificed” by their families for economic stability. These social and criminal issues, she said, need to be addressed frontally by respective agencies.
Mrs Granger also noted that there is a great need for healthcare practitioners to be more caring and less judgmental, especially towards teenage mothers.
She said there is also need for parents as well as teachers to be more open to talking about sex and edifying the younger generation.
Education Minister Nicolette Henry told reporters that the implementation of the policy should not be a problem; she said teachers, especially head-teachers would have to be properly trained to deal with situations.
In cases of private schools, the Minister accepted that the Ministry has no control over what decisions those institutions make, but she noted that there has been no situation in the past where private educational institutions refused to adhere to a national policy.