Oct. 31, 2003 – The Virgin Islands continues to be ranked No. 2 in the nation for its rate of decline in out-of-wedlock births, and the Human Services Department has once again benefitted with an $888,500 "bonus" from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department as a result.
The monetary award is granted as part of the federal government's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. It goes each year to states and territories that experience the largest decreases in their ratio of births outside of marriage to births overall, without an increases in abortion rates above 1995 levels.
Washington, D.C., ranks No. 1 in the nation.
The federal district and the territory were at the top of the list when the federal awards were announced this time last year, too. See "Drop in births outside marriage pays off for V.I.".
According to a letter from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, the 2003 bonus money can be used only to carry out the purposes of the TANF program, which may include support for additional programs to prevent and further reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
"I am pleased to commend Commissioner Sedonie Halbert and her staff at the V.I. Department of Human Services for their effective goal-oriented strategies leading to the reduction of out-of-wedlock births in the territory," Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said in a release.
Calls to Halbert requesting more information on the territory's program for reducing extra-marital births were not returned.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, who in tandem with the Health Department has been hosting an annual Youth Symposium that has promoted abstinence, said she is pleased to hear of the news.
"I'm very encouraged with the fact that we're having a reduction of out-of-wedlock births," Berry said. "And if my symposium has contributed to this reduction, I'm further encouraged."
When she decided to do the symposium eight years ago, Berry recalled, many people thought she would be "laughed out" of office for promoting the idea of sexual abstinence among young people. But she said she is glad she took the stand on the side of abstinence.
The rate of decline in births outside of marriage could be attributed to abstinence, to more protected sex, or to a combination of the two. Monife Stout, Health and Human Services public relation officer, said she thinks it is protected sex. But there are definitely students who are making the decision to forgo sexual activity until later.
A 13-year-old Ivanna Eudora Kean freshman said she has decided to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse.
"Abstinence is the way to go, because at our age we're not ready or prepared to have children," the student said. "Having premarital sex is not thinking, because of all the diseases out there like HIV/AIDS and the risk of pregnancy."
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