Teenage pregnancy is one of the most troubling adolescent sexual and reproductive health concerns in Jamaica. However, most research on the issue focus more heavily on the females than the males. According to the National Family Planning Board’s (NFPB) 2008 Reproductive Health Survey (RHS), most of what is known about adolescent pregnancy in the island is limited to teenage births, because data on abortions and miscarriages are under reported in surveys. To date, the adolescent specific fertility rate for the age group 15 – 19 years is at 72 per 1000 persons.
It is understandable why focus must be placed on adolescent mothers. According to the research, they are more likely to have unintended pregnancies, low use of antenatal health care services, low birth weight, prematurity, and complications during labour and postpartum, which lead to higher morbidity and mortality for themselves and their children. However, for far too long, men had been secondary, even coincidental, subjects of analysis in gender-based studies, particularly those focused on reproductive health and sexuality, as highlighted by Dr. Herbert Gayle in his research entitled, Male survivability in Jamaica.
Teenage pregnancy is a dilemma not just for the female but for the child and the father too. Children born to teen parents are at risk for educational failure, social instability and emotional disturbances according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s 2004 Advisory. These children often lead more chaotic lives, with less durable family composition. They are likely to deal with a series of their mother’s boyfriends and father’s girlfriends, as very seldom will both parents marry or even remain in a relationship with each other. Adolescent males, who are as young as the mothers, are at risk of failure to complete high school, in the case where as young dads, they are responsible for child support to the extent that they earn an income. Those who are more than a few years older than the mothers may be charged with statutory rape and could face prison sentencing even though the relationships were consensual.
Research shows that boys are as vulnerable, if not more, to having unplanned/unwanted pregnancies as girls. Because they enter sexual intercourse earlier than the females, they are more likely to have multiple partners and the culture facilitates risky behaviours amongst males. According to the 2008 RHS, on average, young men reported almost four more lifetime sexual partners than young women (7.3 vs. 3.0 partners). Young men, like their female counterpart are more likely to have partnerships of short duration and perhaps less formal relationships than those of older people. They are also less likely to live with their sexual partners and more likely to have concurrent partners and unprotected intercourse, increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.34.7% of young men reported having had sexual intercourse before age 15 and 76.5% by age 18. While the vast majority of women reported their first sexual encounter to be with a “boyfriend” (88.5% in 2008), the corresponding data for males show substantially smaller percentages of men whose first sexual partner was a “girlfriend” (57.2%, respectively). And although many men reported first intercourse with older partners (35.2%, respectively), most had their first intercourse with partners younger (26.5%) or the same age (28.8%). Among both women and men, their age at first sexual encounter was directly correlated with the likelihood to have a first sexual partner of the same age or younger.
As noted by the Rural Family Support Organisation, teenage pregnancy cannot be seen in isolation, it must be viewed within the context of the many social ills which now plague the Jamaican society. Research (Jarrett, Knight 1988) shows that a lack of parental guidance, low self-esteem and unstable family structure are three major factors which are responsible for the high incidence of teenage pregnancy. The single most important factor which has contributed significantly to the problem is men’s attitude towards sexual relationships.It is therefore critical that equal attention be paid to adolescent fathers, as with adolescent mothers; whilst there are fewer teen fathers than mothers, paternity is harder to determine than maternity and some teen fathers may be reluctant to become involved in research studies because they fear attempts to collect child support or punishment for their involvement in the pregnancy.