Sex education a must
The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) recognises that the teenage pregnancy rate has not changed significantly for the past 15 years.
According to the Central Statistical Office, in the year 2000 teenage girls gave birth to 2,638 children, representing 15 per cent of all live births in Trinidad and Tobago, In 2013 the rate was 14.7 per cent. Pregnancy in adolescence places an insurmountable barrier in the young woman’s path to competent adulthood. Adolescence is a time when girls and boys from ages 11 to 18 have to master a variety of developmental tasks to be ready for the challenges of adulthood. These tasks include:
• acquiring socially responsible behaviour;
• accepting their physique and sexual role;
• managing their sexuality;
• establishing new peer relationships;
• preparing for the world of work;
• attaining emotional independence from parents; and
• building the skills that will prepare for establishing their own families.
Yet in these times we are seeing many adolescents struggling to achieve mastery of these crucial life skills; so many of them live in homes, school, and community environments that do not support them in these tasks. If we look beyond the numbers, to some of the social, economic and psychological issues related to teen pregnancy what do we see. We see teenagers living in poverty and overcrowding. We see many adolescents for whom sex is linked with coercion, violence and abuse. We see girls as well as boys, raised in a climate of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, with little opportunity for acquiring positive self-esteem; indeed in situations where there is no love.
Traditional gender roles often trap young people into high-risk sexual behaviour. Girls who get pregnant by boys or men who say to them that they must prove their love by having sex; and boys who have had no guidance on how to be healthy, manly, and secure in their sexuality, so that they need not be aggressive and sexually coercive.
Research has revealed that the average age of sexual intercourse is 14. A study conducted on the sexual health needs of youth in Tobago found that the average age of first sex was 15.2 years for girls and 13.1 years for boys. These findings are similar to other surveys done in the Caribbean which have shown that sexual activity often precedes sexual knowledge. Many adolescents do not know of the risks to health of early pregnancy; they have many mistaken beliefs of sex and sexuality, for instance many think that they cannot get pregnant at first intercourse.
For more than four decades FPATT has been addressing the sexual health needs of adolescents in a holistic, rights-based and gender-sensitive manner. Comprehensive sexuality education works and young people who have completed such a programme delay their first sexual experience compared with adolescents who have not had this education; we have many years of experience in delivering such programmes.
FPATT has established an award-winning adolescent centre ‘De Living Room’ in Port of Spain where young people can come to receive quality services to meet their sexual and reproductive health needs, including information, education and counselling. This is further complemented by De Roving Living Room which specifically addresses the needs of out of school youth. The Collaborative HIV/AIDS Management Programme (CHAMP), an HIV prevention programme for adolescents which includes parents in a holistic education and counselling exercise about sexuality including HIV, is ongoing. FPATT provides services for adolescents through the mobile clinic community outreach programme that reaches over 40 urban and rural communities annually. Services that are currently provided are just a drop in the bucket to address the unmet need for comprehensive sexuality education, information and services that will reduce the high level of teenage pregnancies in Trinidad and Tobago.
FPATT says it stands ready to collaborate and partner with the Ministry of Education in providing these services. With increased financial support and thus the ability to expand their human resource base, the group says it has the will, the skill and the know-how to achieve the goal of reducing teenage pregnancy.
—Submitted by the Family
Planning Association of
Trinidad & Tobago