Trinidad: More men impregnating teen girls — State bodies

By Shaliza Hassanali

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Ministry of Social Development and Family Services Permanent Secretary Jacinta Bailey-Sobers makes a point during yesterday’s JSC into the prevalence of teen pregnancies at Parliament, Port-of-Spain. * Nicole Drayton

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — State en­ti­ties re­main trou­bled that they are un­able to iden­ti­fy hun­dreds of adult males who im­preg­nate teenage school girls.

This was re­vealed yes­ter­day be­fore a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee on So­cial Ser­vices and Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion which held an in­quiry with of­fi­cials of the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion (MOE), Chil­dren’s Au­thor­i­ty (CA), Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices (MS­DFS), Health Min­istry (HM) and Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter —Gen­der and Child Af­fairs (OPM) at the Par­lia­ment Build­ing, Port-of-Spain.

The hear­ing looked at the preva­lence of teenage preg­nan­cy and its pur­pose was to min­imise the oc­cur­rence of teenage preg­nan­cy and pro­vide ser­vices and as­sis­tance to teenage par­ents.

Com­mit­tee chair­man Paul Richards shared star­tling da­ta ob­tained from the Health Min­istry which showed there were 3,777 cas­es of re­port­ed teenage preg­nan­cies for the pe­ri­od 2014 to 2018.

Of the 3,777 cas­es, Richards said 570 girls fell be­tween the 13 to 16 age brack­et, while there were 2,907 re­port­ed cas­es in the age group 17 to 19. On av­er­age, Richards said 755 teenage girls be­come preg­nant an­nu­al­ly.

Sta­tis­tics ob­tained by the MoE re­vealed that be­tween 2014 and 2019, ap­prox­i­mate­ly 47 preg­nant girls, af­ter giv­ing birth, re­turned to their sec­ondary school to con­tin­ue their ed­u­ca­tion, while 36 com­plete­ly with­drew from class­es.

Of the 3,777 preg­nant girls, Richards re­vealed that 1,395 men be­tween the ages 20 to 30 years had con­tributed to these preg­nan­cies, while 146 males fell in the age group 31 to 40, with 24 girls get­ting preg­nant for men be­tween the ages 41 to 50. On­ly one teen be­came preg­nant for a man whose age ranged 51 to 60. Richards said 142 men opt­ed not to re­veal their ages.

He al­so pro­vid­ed da­ta from the OPM which showed the num­ber of live births among teenage girls from 2008 to 2015 at five pub­lic hos­pi­tals.

“Un­der the age of 12, there were 35 live births. Be­tween 13 and 16 there was 2,645. Be­tween ages 17 and 19 there were 11,717 live births,” Richards said.

He agreed that the cas­es were “star­tling,” say­ing these fig­ures could be far more, bear­ing in mind they did not have sta­tis­tics from pri­vate doc­tors and hos­pi­tals.

MS­DFS per­ma­nent sec­re­tary Jac­in­ta Bai­ley-Sobers al­so told the com­mit­tee that a 2011 Glob­al School Health Sur­vey showed that 26 per cent of stu­dents were sex­u­al­ly ac­tive.

“13.2 per cent of those youths would have had sex­u­al in­ter­course be­fore the age of 13. And 17.6 per cent of stu­dents had sex­u­al in­ter­course with mul­ti­ple part­ners. An over­all 37.3 per cent of stu­dents would pur­chase or use a con­dom but on­ly if they felt it was nec­es­sary. So un­pro­tect­ed sex was preva­lent,” Bai­ley-Sobers said.

She al­so dis­closed that 351,000 youths un­der the age of 18 had al­so con­tract­ed sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted dis­eases.

Dar­lene Smith, MOE guid­ance of­fi­cer of the Stu­dents Sup­port Ser­vices ad­mit­ted that teen fa­thers are of­ten scared to come for­ward, stat­ing that un­der the Romeo Clause some of them are not pun­ish­able by law.

Har­ri­lal Seecha­ran, MOE chief ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer at­trib­uted these preg­nan­cies to a num­ber of so­cio-eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al fac­tors. Stu­dents from some com­mu­ni­ties, he said, viewed sex­u­al ac­tiv­i­ty as “be­ing ma­cho.”

Fam­i­lies re­fus­ing to co­op­er­ate

Chil­dren’s Au­thor­i­ty di­rec­tor Safiya Noel ex­pressed con­cern that most of the fa­thers of the teen girls turn out to be adults who can be charged for statu­to­ry rape.

“That it­self caus­es the teenage moth­er, in many cas­es, to be tight-lipped and not to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion which is nec­es­sary for us. You find in­for­ma­tion on the fa­thers is very lit­tle. What we do along with the po­lice, we have to in­ves­ti­gate,” Noel said.

“But we get very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion from the moth­ers (girls)…that is our re­al­i­ty. We re­ly heav­i­ly on the po­lice as well to do their in­ves­ti­ga­tion and when the per­pe­tra­tors are brought we are able to get more in­for­ma­tion. Be­cause these per­pe­tra­tors are tar­get­ed for pros­e­cu­tion there is a con­cert­ed ef­fort by the child and the fam­i­ly to not pro­vide in­for­ma­tion.”

Noel said this was main­ly to pro­tect the adult men, whose iden­ti­ties re­main un­known.

The on­ly in­for­ma­tion that is forth­com­ing, Noel said, was that the per­pe­tra­tors live in the same com­mu­ni­ty with the preg­nant girl.

Richards ad­mit­ted that many of the girls be­come preg­nant as a re­sult of statu­to­ry rape, re­sult­ing in the per­pe­tra­tors go­ing “un­pros­e­cut­ed” which should nev­er hap­pen.

Mem­ber Glen­da Jen­nings-Smith asked the stake­hold­ers if any study had been un­der­tak­en by them to de­ter­mine if the men who im­preg­nate these girls are their step­fa­thers, neigh­bours, bi­o­log­i­cal fa­thers, class­mates or boyfriends.

Noel said no such re­search had been done.

Richards al­so en­quired if these per­pe­tra­tors were be­ing hauled be­fore the courts and jus­tice was be­ing served.

Bai­ley-Sobers could not say if jus­tice was be­ing ad­min­is­tered against such per­pe­tra­tors, say­ing this re­mit fell with­in the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­istry.

Jen­nings-Smith ques­tioned if any of the per­pe­tra­tors in­volved in the 570 cas­es of teenage preg­nan­cy were hauled be­fore the court, which Noel promised to pro­vide the com­mit­tee with in writ­ing.

Mem­ber Es­mond Forde asked the stake­hold­ers if they were able to iden­ti­fy the fa­thers of these preg­nant teens.

“What is their back­ground? Are they re­peat­ed of­fend­ers? What is their ed­u­ca­tion­al sta­tus? Are they un­em­ployed? Are they, sor­ry to say, the maxi taxi touts who trav­el with these girls? Are they the PH or H taxis dri­vers?” Forde en­quired but got no an­swers from the of­fi­cials.

“Who is do­ing the tar­get­ed re­search? That is what we are not get­ting. We are get­ting the nice pol­i­cy an­swers and the great best prac­tice ap­proach,” Richards in­ter­ject­ed.

OPM per­ma­nent sec­re­tary Jacque­line John­son ad­mit­ted there was a lack of co­or­di­na­tion among the agen­cies, not­ing an at­tempt was made by the OPM to pull the agen­cies to­geth­er based on a na­tion­al child pol­i­cy, which was ap­proved by Cab­i­net. She ad­mit­ted there were 28 agen­cies ad­min­is­ter­ing child care in T&T and the Child Pro­tec­tion Unit was do­ing its part in pro­tect­ing chil­dren.

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