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Although often touted as a sign of moral crisis in the society, teenage pregnancies in Trinidad and Tobago have been declining for decades now. In fact, the last Fertility Report produced by the Central Statistical Office (CSO), based on the 2000 census, showed that, while 20 per cent of females aged 15 to 19 years had children in 1980, this ratio had halved by 2000. The CSO, which seems to have been effectively shut down since the 2011 census, has produced no updated report, but the pattern is unlikely to have changed in the past 14 years.
Although the 15 to 19 age categorisation is problematic—after all, there is a vast difference between a 15-year-old girl having a child and a 19-year-old woman—the fertility report shows that, of all females in this age category with children, only 18 per cent are married, while 30 per cent are in common-law relationships.
A quarter of these young women are in visiting relationships, while 18 per cent are single mothers. It is the women in these two last categories who are likely to need help and attention.
From a social point of view, females having children at this age is undesirable. Not only do they make greater demands on social services, but they are often deprived of education and their children frequently do not get the quality of care a more mature mother would give. But, from the young women’s point of view, having a child is often a deliberate choice. This is why, although information about contraception and free birth control is readily available, these women nonetheless get pregnant.
Although no analysis of their socioeconomic status has been done, the union status tells a story. Nationally, just 12 per cent of couples are in common-law relationships, but this figure is almost tripled for 15 to 19-year-olds with children. Similarly, less than one per cent are in visiting relationships, as compared to 15 per cent in this age group, while the ratio of single mothers is almost doubled.
It may be possible to reduce these numbers through targeted social programmes which, first of all, identify the factors which cause these young women to become pregnant, and then take measures to ameliorate their situation. But it is perhaps even more important to identify those young mothers whose children are most at risk—and that number might be no more than 1,000 women—and target them for assistance.
Doing so can literally save a child’s life. It is not coincidental that over 85 per cent of children who die by accident or violence were born when their mothers were less than 25 years old. That is the core tragedy of adolescent pregnancy.