A special unit of the Police Service will focus on offences against children, including teenage pregnancies.This is one of the immediate steps to be taken following the meeting of the National Security Council, yesterday.Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who chairs the Council, described the growing number of teenage pregnancies as a "grave danger facing the nation's children."
With a reported 2,500 teenage pregnancies annually, the Council also mandated the Child Protection Task Force to expand its scope of works to come up with solutions to the problem.Speaking with the media yesterday, at the Noor Hassanali Conference Room at Tower C of the International Waterfront, Persad-Bissessar said that the council decided to amend the terms of the Child Protection Task Force for research and review of the issues and to provide recommendations to treat with it.
She added that the task force was expected to meet with the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) National Parent and Teachers Association (NPTA) the Medical Professionals Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MPATT) and other stakeholders.
The PM added that the Child Protection Unit was proposed to the acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams to deal with underage sex offences. She added that 1,000 people are to be recruited for the Police Service and 500 for the Special Reserved Police (SRP) in the coming weeks to bolster the Police Service.
Asked about the perception that some of the underage children are seeking sexual relationships with adults Persad-Bissessar said: "I will not entertain the statutory rape of a child and use the expression that the child too hot. There is no excuse and no exception. I would not tolerate that at all."
The PM said that it is unlawful for a parent, guardian, caregiver, teacher, employer, anyone with temporary care of a child, a medical practitioners, nurse, midwife or anyone who medically examines a minor, who fails to report any indication that the child is sexually active with an adult. She said they are liable upon summary conviction to a fine of $15,000, seven years imprisonment or the combination of both.
Persad-Bissessar also stated that anyone found guilty of having sex with a girl under the age of 14 is liable to life imprisonment, 12 years for first offenders who have sex with girls between 14 to 16, while second time offenders would be sentenced to 15 years on conviction.The PM added that a lack of awareness by the public of the offence would be addressed by the Ministry of Gender Youth and Child Development in a public education programme as ignorance of the law was not a defence.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, told the Senate, many men were getting away with statutory rape as many underage teen mothers had become pregnant for fathers who were between the ages of 25-40 and that some of the mothers were below the ages of 12. He said the country could not continue to ignore the statutory rape of teenagers adding it was necessary to apprehend the fathers engaged in the practice so as to induce "fear among the perpetrators" which could serve as a deterrent to statutory rape.