There are over 2,500 teen pregnancies each year, most of them for fathers in the 25 to 40 year age group, Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh revealed yesterday. This suggests that many men are getting away with statutory rape.
Furthermore the minister said research at the UWI Faculty of Medical Science had showed that by age 19, more than 1,000 young women had four children already.
This was the “frightening” situation which Gopeesingh outlined as he responded to a question filed by Independent Senator Dr Victor Wheeler, in the Senate yesterday. Gopeesingh said based on his 27 years as a gynaecologist working in the public sector, for every 15 new patients in the ante-natal, 10 are teenagers.
Gopeesingh said the country had to get a handle on the issue of statutory rape because this teenage pregnancy situation cannot continue. “If people (fathers) are apprehended, there might be fear among the perpetrators,” and therefore it could serve as a deterrent to statutory rape, he said.
“It is an issue of socialisation and what these teenagers are looking for. When you question them, even when I was in my own practice...they said they were looking for some degree of love. They felt they were not loved,” he said.
Wheeler’s question had asked about teenage pregnancies among the student population.
Gopeesingh said he was advised by the Ministry that between 2008 and 2012, there were four reported cases of girls attending primary schools who gave birth. One in 2008, two in 2010 and one in 2012. He said all four girls returned to school to complete their primary school education. Three of them completed their secondary education up to form five. He said however that one primary school pupil (the one who gave birth in 2012) did not complete her secondary school education.
He said between 2008 to 2012, the Ministry of Education received reports of 153 cases of teenage pregnancy. He said of the 153 reported cases, approximately 81 girls returned to school and 54 completed their education up to Form five. Of the 153 reported cases,15 lived in Victoria, 52 lived in the district of Port of Spain, 26 in St George East, 44 in Caroni, four in the North-eastern district, three in the South-eastern district and nine in the St Patrick district. Of the 81 who returned to school, eight were from Victoria, 39 from Port of Spain, 20 from St George East, 16 from Caroni. Fifty-four completed up to Form five: five – Victoria, 24 – Port of Spain and environs, 20 – St George East, five – Caroni.
However the ministry said these were only the cases reported to Student Support Services. He said there was under-reporting of teenage pregnancies to the ministry and that many pupils merely dropped out of school. He said the truancy rate in schools was currently 15 per cent. The ministry had not been able to track those pupils who dropped out. “Both Dr Wheeler and myself being gynaecologists and following this over a number of years, the research shows that there are more than 2,500 cases annually of teenage pregnancies.” He said it is important to note that according to statistics from the Central Statistical Office as well, most of these pregnancies occur for gentlemen 25, 30, 35, 40 years old.
Asked what the ministry was doing to address the problem, Gopeesingh said the ministry was reforming the primary school curriculum and the secondary school curriculum. He said morals, values and ethics, character development, citizenry development, physical education, visual and performing arts and health and family life education had been added to this curriculum. He said social studies, with some degree of sex education, formed part of the secondary school programme.
Gopeesingh said there was a strong student support division at the ministry. Cabinet approved the increase of student support personnel to over 762. He said there were more 200 guidance counsellors and close to 100 social workers. He said shortly there would be clinical and educational psychologists as well as behavioural psychologists in the schools. He said the ministry had also begun a “strong parenting approach” in the primary and secondary schools. It had also begun the appointment of local school boards.
Gopeesingh said the ministry provides counselling for those who become pregnant. He said the issue of caring for the children (of teen mothers) was however posing a challenge for the Government. He said already 50 per cent of the mothers in the country were single. “So with a single parent, having a (child who is a) teenage parent, we have a major social problem with absentee grandmothers and absent mothers,” he said.