The former Director of the Department of Gender Affairs for St. Kitts and Nevis has praised the Project Viola programme.

The programme offers a second chance to teen mothers and at-risk youths to complete their education in order to successfully integrate themselves into society.

Over the years it has received praise regionally and internationally.

“I would say that this programme is what social services would call best practice for St. Kitts and Nevis, and UNICEF called it a best practice and documented it regionally and began to air it throughout the region, encouraging other countries to do likewise, especially in the sub-region,” said Ms. Ingrid Charles-Gumbs, the former Director of the Department of Gender Affairs.

Ms. Charles-Gumbs made the comments during her appearance on “Working for You” on November 29.

“We were the first in the sub-region to have a programme like this and I think probably the third in CARICOM.”

The former director said that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica had introduced similar programmes before St. Kitts and Nevis.

Former Director – Department of Gender Affairs Ms. Ingrid Charles-Gumbs

Abolishing the stigma

“Of course, the advocacy in St. Kitts and Nevis was not easy. We had a lot of opposition. There were people who felt that girls who went to school and got pregnant were women – some as young as first form – and that they should go to work as they had no business in school.”

When introducing the programme, it was recognised as a strategy for the reduction of poverty. But it did not come about easily, with many seeing pregnant girls at school as a stigma.

“After public awareness around this programme in 1997, the Federal Cabinet through a policy decision, decided that teenage mothers had a right to be in school in the mainstream. So, September 1997, any girl in St. Kitts and Nevis who was a teenage mother and wanted to be in school had the right to be in school…with the support of the state through social service interactions,” said Ms. Charles-Gumbs.

Launched in 2002, Project Viola has had more than 150 adolescents participate, centralising support for teenage mothers.

St. Kitts and Nevis is signatory to several global conventions that address the rights of women and specifically, the rights of the girl, including  the Beijing Platform Action 1995, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.