Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Noticeably Pregnant!


By Mshaka


As most people know, there is an ongoing, heated debate about the proposed amendment to the Education Act which seeks to prohibit “noticeably pregnant” “students” from attending school.

While it is true that there is need for programs to prevent girls from becoming pregnant during their school years, this “Bill” does not seek to do that.

What it does is that it seeks to first remove the “noticeably pregnant” “girl” from her school, and second to punish her for becoming pregnant.

This Bill has nothing to with any concern for education. It has to do with adults concerns for some kind of effervescent morality… not morality having to do with teenage sex… but of teenage pregnancy.

If it was about teenage sex then the other party to the pregnancy… the boys or men… would also be targeted. But as far as I am aware, the Bill is silent about the males in the equation.

No – it is not about sexual behavior.

And, the system only punishes the girl if and when she becomes “noticeably pregnant”. If no one notices… then, hey, everything is OK. This is like the US Military’s rule about homosexuality in the US Armed Forces…. “Don’t see, don’t tell.” Keep it your homosexual orientation (or preferences) and certainly your activities… hidden!

So a young girl must hide her pregnancy! Tell them that you are just gaining weight. Wear overly large clothing. Whatever happens, don’t become “noticeably pregnant”. If you do become “noticeably pregnant” you will have to take off your uniform… and you will be banished from your school – denied of education – at least for a year… and after that – well… who knows!

Now what happens if no one notices and she never becomes “noticeably pregnant?” And let’s say she then has the baby. What then? She was never noticeably pregnant… so according to the law she should be able to stay in school after her delivery - (she was out sick…).

In the meantime, the male – the equal partner to the pregnancy - does not ever become “noticeably pregnant” and is not required to be “noticeably involved”.

Let’s say he is a fellow school mate… what then? Well, he is OK. He is not “noticeably pregnant”. He never will be… even if this is his second, third, fourth… Never mind all that… He is not “noticeably pregnant”.

And, remember that this is not about sexual activity by school aged children… this is about having a pregnant girl going to school.

One supporter of this odiferous Bill told me that “The young woman (after she becomes “noticeably pregnant”) will be a poor role model, will be a bad influence, and will send the wrong message to the other girls in the school!

Huh? What? What is the wrong message that she is sending?

Since the concern is not about sex… it has to be about not becoming “noticeably pregnant”. So her classmates, her friends… and the other girls around them… can be sexually active… as many of her friends probably are.

All they have to do is to just make sure that they don’t become pregnant. And if they do get pregnant… make sure that they are never “noticeably pregnant”.

Now… in the meantime the boys can go on having sex and fathering babies…! And the if they are older… and the girl is younger… then everyone turns a blind eye to that Gargantuan issue… Does the Bill address repercussions for them?

What is the answer to this situation?

  • There are only four issues to be addressed:Address the issue of teenage sexuality by developing prevention and intervention programs. There are tons of blue ribbon, research driven, proven, best-practices programs available worldwide. We even had one in Antigua years ago when the Youth Project (on Factory Road) was initiated.
  • If a girl becomes pregnant there should be a program that triggers a plethora of health, social and educational services to wrap around her. She should not lose out on educational services because she is 15 and pregnant. If anything… that should trigger greater concern for than for her peers because of her pending responsibility for another life. If the government opts for an alternative education program – it should be robust, well funded and seamlessly integrated with health and social services. And – every effort should be made to reduce any stigmatization that could come with such programs. In other words – there should be a strong focus on conscious-raising public awareness campaigns that highlight the importance of public support for these two children… mother and child.
  • Intensive wrap-around social and health services should be developed for the mother and baby once she has given birth. Such services would include parenting classes. Her education should be continued until she completes her secondary education. I would also submit that career guidance counseling should also be provided.
  • Finally, the issue of the males involved should be addressed. Steps taken should include legal, social, educational or psychological interventions. The legal issues are clear. However, school-age fathers… (who are going to school) should be involved in parenting classes along with the teenage mother!

I find the idea of putting “noticeably pregnant” in a Bill repulsive.

I find the idea of leaving the decision up to the School’s principal similarly obnoxious. Why? Well… I cannot imagine any of today’s bible-toting, bible-quoting principals making a decision to keep a “noticeably pregnant” young girl in their sight! So let’s not leave it up to them!

I suggest that a lot more thought must go into any decisions that are being made on these issues. There are many important things to consider. But the most important has to do with the young mother to be and her unborn baby – whether she is “noticeably pregnant” or not.