Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ramatali: STDs on the rise in schools

STATISTICS coming out of some treatment centres have indicated an increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among school pupils, National Parent Teachers’ Association (NPTA) president, Zena Ramatali, said yesterday.

Ramatali also confirmed teenage pregnancy figures publicised Tuesday by Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh and said the association was alerted prior to that to a rise in teenage pregnancies.

The warnings came from schools, showing a growing number of pupils dropping out of school to have babies.

Gopeesingh, speaking in the Senate, said about 2,500 teenagers are getting pregnant annually.

Many of these, he said, are also below the legal age of consent, which is 16 years, and also below 18, the legal age of adulthood.

Ramatali said the figures could actually be higher, as these were the cases that the State was aware of through medical and other records.

“I think that figure is more or less correct, but it could be more,” Ramatali said in a telephone interview.

Most of the statistics on increasing cases of STDs among pupils and teenagers are coming out of the Family Planning Association (FPA) and the Queen’s Park Counselling Centre, Ramatali said.

With regard to STDs, Ramatali said: “We understand that it is on the rise and the ages of the children being affected are getting younger.”

She added that the recent findings have only made a stronger case for a proper sex education programme in the nation’s schools.

During a nationwide consultation last year on sex education, conducted by the Ministry of Education, Ramatali and the NPTA made clear its position that a proper programme was imperative.

“We are very concerned that so many students are dropping out school, with no proper training, sometimes with very poor pre-natal care,” Ramatali said.

“And nobody is being held accountable.”

She added: “Our position remains that sex education should be taught in schools.”

Ramatali said it was time for the Ministry to put “specialists” to work with teachers in implementing a new curriculum that brings “values and character training” into the schools.

And a media statement from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service yesterday issued some advice to parents—pay attention to children’s lives.

The TTPS, which came under some fire following Gopeesingh’s revelation, has since called on parents and guardians to work with the service in reducing teenage pregnancies and abuse of the minors.

Statistics provided by the TTPS were much lower than those reported by Gopeesingh (See box).

“In some cases there may be one victim with the same offender but the offence may have occurred on several dates,” the TTPS said.

As it relates to offences of sexual intercourse with minors between the ages of 14-16 years, in 2011 there were 145 reported cases and 67 persons were charged.

In 2012, 226 cases were reported and 133 persons charged. In 2013, 117 reported cases and 43 persons charged.

The TTPS cited the law regarding sex with minors and with female minors, where Section 31 of the Sexual Offences Act Chapter 11:28 makes provisions for the prosecution of any person, guardian or medical personnel who fails to report the possibility of sexual offences against a minor and who is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of $15,000 or to imprisonment for a term of seven years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

The TTPS also cited offences created under Section 6(1) and 7(1) of the Sexual Offences Act Chapter 11:28.

Under Section 6(1), the offender “is guilty of the offence whether or not the female consents to the intercourse and whether or not at the time of the intercourse he believed her to be 14 years of age or more, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life”.

Under this section, the penalty is more severe than the offence of sexual intercourse with a female between 14 to 16 years, the TTPS stated.

Section 7(1) of the Sexual Offences Act Chapter 11:28 specifically caters for the offence of sexual intercourse with females between 14 and 16 years.

“The offence is committed where a male person has sexual intercourse with a female person who is not his wife with her consent and who has attained the age of 14 years but has not yet attained the age of 16 years,” the release cited.

This offence carries a penalty of imprisonment for 12 years for a first offence and to imprisonment for 15 years for a subsequent offence.

“We also would like to advise parents and guardians that teenagers with unplanned pregnancies face difficult choices,” the TTPS stated.

“They need support. Parents need to become more involved in a teenager’s life.

“Often times, parents are preoccupied with their own relationships. We advise that the more involved parents are in a teenager’s life, the more they will be able to keep the lines of communication open and lend advice on tough issues like teen pregnancy and lifestyle choices.”