Chairman of ASPIRE (Advocates for Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity), attorney Lynette Seebaran-Suite, said yesterday she agreed with concerns that a crackdown on the fathers in cases of teenaged pregnancies could increase the number of girls seeking “backstreet abortions”.
In yesterday’s Express, Dr Sherene Kalloo, obstetrician/gynaecologist, expressed concern that plans by the State and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to come down on those having sex with teenagers under the age of consent could force these children to seek unprofessional terminations in the event of pregnancies.
Last Friday, 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 in jail.
Margaret Sampson Browne, head of the Police Service Victims and Witness Support Unit, had also stated doctors should be held accountable and jailed for not reporting these cases.
Kalloo said doctors’ lives can also be placed in jeopardy if threatened by criminal elements to deliver a pregnant teen baby.
“I definitely agree with Dr. Kalloo,” Seebaran-Suite said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“The first line of dealing with the problem of teenage pregnancies is not to criminalise the situation by bringing charges against the father of the unborn child.”
Seebaran-Suite said this view will not take away from the fact that sex with a child or a teenager under the age of consent, which is 16 years, should remain an illegal act.
However, taken into the context of a general breakdown in law and order in Trinidad and Tobago, where people are afraid to bear witness to any crimes, the first line of defence against teenage pregnancies should be in education.
As it stands, Seebaran-Suite said, medical services, including the termination of a pregnancy, which is not legal in T&T, cannot be accessed without the consent of an adult, parent or guardian.
Some teenagers may also be facing a difficult or abusive relationship with the guardian or parent, she said.
Driven further from being able to make contact with any form of authority in the situation, a teenage pregnancy could very well see a rise in visits to so-called “backstreet abortionists”, Seebaran-Suite said.
“Persons will simply shy away from getting services,” Seebaran-Suite said.
Two weeks ago, Education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh announced that up to 2,500 teenagers were getting pregnant in T&T every year.
Seebaran-Suite said this figure may also include teenagers 18 and 19 years, who are legally adults.
When ASPIRE began a campaign to reform local reproductive laws, the number of women entering the public health system annually with complications due to improperly performed abortions was in the ballpark of four to five thousand.
There has been a steady decline in this figure due mainly to the increasing availability of drugs that spur terminations at an early stage of the pregnancy, she said, and which are undoubtedly safe when used correctly.
However, unless bought as contraband, these drugs are available by prescription and not over the counter, bringing back the question of a teenager having to access the drugs through the proper channels, which they might be afraid to do.