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.