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Tim: Teen pregnancy a big headache

By Keino Swamber keino.swamber@trinidadexpress.com

EDUCATION Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh says out of the 17,000 births recorded in Trinidad and Tobago annually, an estimated 2,500 involve teenagers who become pregnant before the age of 18.

At a news conference at his ministry's head office in Port of Spain yesterday, Gopeesingh said the issue of teenage pregnancy continues to be a major societal problem.

He said the children of more than 95 per cent of those who become pregnant before the age of 18, and "a lot" who become pregnant before the age of 16, are fathered by men in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Gopeesingh used as an example, the recent case of two-year-old Aliyah Johnson who, he said, was born to a mother who was only 16. Aliyah died on Sunday from acute blood loss as a result of being struck in her abdomen. A post-mortem examination revealed her liver was ruptured and blood flowed into her abdominal cavity.

"Any young child below the age of 16 being pregnant is statutory rape and therefore we have to now actively bring into process, with the Children's Bill, the question of medical social workers and school social workers to deal with this problem and to determine who are the fathers of these pregnancies," Gopeesingh said.

"It's a question of statutory rape which ought to be reported. It is a reportable offence with the existing legislation. So when the Children's Bill comes into place, it will be even more important for these matters to be reported," he added.

Gopeesingh said the country is grappling with a shortage of social workers. He said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, through Cabinet, recently appointed a team to look at the possibility of awarding additional scholarships in the field of social work.

"We need more support workers in the areas of school social workers, medical social workers, educational, behavioural and clinical psychologists," he said.

He said the issue is also engaging the attention of several ministries including the Ministries of The People and Social Development, Gender and Child Development and Health.

Gopeesingh said the Ministry of National Security and the Police Service will also have a part to play.

The teaching of Health and Family Life Education, formerly referred to as sex education, will soon constitute an important part of the school's curriculum in primary schools.

He said: "It is going to be taught up to standard five in the primary schools whereas previously it stopped at standard three.

"We have been mandated by Cabinet to employ an HIV educator within our Ministry of Education to assist with programmes, as far as that is concerned, within secondary schools.

"There are other areas that we have to work with very quickly to deal with. (These include) the problems of abnormal sexual behaviour and pornography in schools, which is another major factor that seems to be rearing its head with the advent of the mobile telephone where pornographic material is stored and transmitted. We have to work out a policy on that pretty quickly as well."

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