Even with this progress we cannot be too quick to celebrate.
We have come a long way and yet we are also very mindful that we are not there yet. We have not yet arrived.
–– Muriel Mafico, UNICEF deputy representative for the Eastern Caribbean, addressing British, American and Canadian Women’s Clubs and Barbadian service organizations on Tuesday in observance of International Women’s Day.
Foremost on the mind of Ms Mafico at the gathering at the Living Waters Community Pastoral Centre For Evangelism in St David’s, Christ Church, was the state of our Barbadian lasses –– in particular, the high level of teenage pregnancies in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean.
The UNICEF official would let us know that the United Nations Population Fund had estimated that some 20 per cent of our Caribbean females had had at least one child by age ten, with considerable more of adolescent girls giving birth before age 15. More grisly, Ms Mafico pointed out, the Pan American Health Association (PAHO) had indicated the leading cause of death for girls between 15 and 19 years in the Caribbean and Latin America was related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Without the slightest doubt, such a state of affairs would be robbing our very young Caribbean women of a proper education, as these pregnant schoolgirls would be forced to become dropouts; and would be denying them too their more appropriate self-development and fashioning of self-esteem.
Sadly, Ms Mafico was not advising us on what we do not already know –– at least, most of us. We are not unmindful that this awkward situation has its conception in rights –– children’s rights!
If a girl –– especially 16 or thereabouts –– wants contraception (for her protection), or to be tested or treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or to seek out an abortion, chances are the doctor will not tell that minor’s parents without her express consent. The doctor, in the name of espoused rights, might take comfort in the belief the teenager fully understands the purpose requested and the service to be rendered, and the right decisions to be made.
The doctor whose conscience would be more savagely pricked would do his best to persuade his juvenile patient to tell her parents or caregivers about her visit –– or, at the very least, exact commitment from the child patient to consider it. This medical practitioner would rather take the “conservative” path. In any case, it is highly unlikely any doctor and his nurse or attending pharmacist would engage the young one to confess to Mummy and Daddy by any form of intimidation.
And, it is all because of this tacit acceptance in Barbados that our 21st century teens have the same rights to doctor-patient confidentiality as seasoned adults. After all, the laws of the country say the age for consensual sex is 16, in the face of the convention that most doctors operate on the basis the legal age of majority is 18 –– or even 21.
This is the dilemma some of our physicians face when they are roused to reason, as a consequence, that children ought not to be given treatment without their parents’ permission until such age.
These states of “children’s rights” clearly do not dovetail, and their inconsistency calls for urgent national examination. For sure, the Laws Of Barbados do not explicitly state that our physicians must never treat minors confidentially –– without the knowledge of parents. Nor do they state that they can.
Until such time as legal clarity can be brought to bear on this matter, we can only continue to bemoan this absence of consonance, and empathize with our doctors, who we believe generally act within strict codes of ethics and conduct, employing wise discretion founded on strong justification.
This Caribbean curse of tot and teen pregnancy deprives our charges of natural childhood. And we can only thank Ms Mafico for her frankness in reminding us that for all the remarkable strides made by Caribbean women –– in the last 50 years –– there are challenges that yet haunt us, as they relate particularly to our very young.
The Caribbean –– Barbados not exempted –– boasts some of the lowest ages of early sexual initiation in the world, and this international reckoning has not come by accident. Caribbean adults openly think sex, talk sex, sing sex, play sex, dance sex –– even have sex –– before the very eyes of our children day in, day out. Wukking up, simulation of the sex act, is second nature to many a Barbadian women, including mothers.
It is thrown before the whole world on Kadooment Day especially.
But the decadence does not only present itself in the streets. At home, some parents sit and watch blue movies, their tender offspring flanking them like glued and gluttonous sidekicks –– a case of conspired curiosity killing the kid. Then we wonder how our tots and teens “get so” –– or pretend to!
As we continue to reflect on the advancement of females and their remarkable contribution to Caribbean society, it behoves us all to stymie these child and teen pregnancies, which can only be a nemesis to the continuing presence of mighty and honourable woman!