The legal threat of being jailed for not reporting statutory rape will place pregnant children at high risk and may even result in their death, according to prominent obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr Sherene Kalloo.
She said doctors’ lives can also be placed in jeopardy if threatened by criminal elements to deliver a pregnant teen baby.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar reminded of the provision of the law, Section 31 (1), which states that parents, guardians, attendants, employers, teachers, doctors, nurses and midwives who know a minor is sexually active have a duty to report it to the police.
Failure to do so can lead to a $15,000 fine and/or seven years’ jail.
Margaret Sampson Browne, head of the Police Service Victims and Witness Support Unit, had also stated that doctors should be held accountable and jailed for not reporting these cases.
However, Kalloo said doctors should not be attacked for the social and moral decay that leads to teenage pregnancies.
She said this warning of the law to all would in effect force girls and families to keep it secret and have home deliveries, or go to “backyard abortionists” where their lives would be placed in grave danger.
Kalloo, ASPIRE’s Woman of the Year 2013 recipient, noted that the majority of these pregnant females are in the lower socio-economic group and attend clinics and deliver at the public institutions.
“Most of these children are scared to come to the clinics. Most are scared to trust any adults. One cannot obtain the trust and co-operation of a patient if she feels she would now be caught up in a police and legal matter. This perception would now lead to patients seeking or being forced to have concealed home deliveries,” she said.
“What would be the outcome of these shadow babies? Fodder for human trafficking?” she asked.
Kalloo said it is a doctor’s duty to make a pregnant patient mentally and physically prepared for a safe delivery, but for an adult this could be a time of great distress, more so for an immature teenager.
“This hysterical and frenzied demand would also see the rise in backstreet abortions and the subsequent backlash to our maternal morbidity and mortality figures,” she said.
She noted that for years, organisations like ASPIRE have been seeking clarification from the Government about the legal rights and medical conditions surrounding termination of pregnancy.
“What do we do as a medical community when faced with a pregnant teenager who was raped? What would the Prime Minister advise doctors to do?” she asked.
Kalloo noted it was “passing strange” that one of the Government’s own members, Dr Daphne Phillips, had produced a report on the incidence of sexual abuse in a study done in some secondary schools, yet the numbers of teenage pregnancies keep escalating.
She added that most hospitals are short-staffed and questioned what would happen to other patients when the doctors are called to courts to give evidence in these matters.
“Matters that can drag on for years with the snail-paced legal system which exists in our country,” she said.
“What if a member of a gang, and I feel assured that all gangs and their members are known, brings his pregnant teenage partner to a doctor and the doctor reports it. The life of the doctor and his family would be under threat. Could the Government assure us of our safety? Life is cheap and talk is plenty in Trinidad,” added Kalloo.
“Murdered State witness Stacy Roopan still brings tears to my eyes when I think about how she was shot six times outside her son’s pre-school,” she added.
Kalloo said the onus should not be on doctors who need to develop trust and give support to these teenagers.
She said the community police and social workers need to comb the communities and rescue these children from sexual predators.
“They need to be in every nook and cranny of our land and to be our eyes and ears to be on the lookout for the child predators who are a curse on this land. In other words, prevention is better than cure,” said Kalloo.
She said a sexual offenders public registry was long overdue and more efforts need to be channelled in building values and morals at the school level.