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By CECILY ASSON Sunday, May 18 2014

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EIGHT students from a secondary school in south Trinidad are confirmed pregnant, one of whom is a Form One child.

The startling disclosure was made yesterday by President of the National Parent Teachers’ Association (NPTA), Zena Ramatali, who called for immediate police action on the matter.

Ramatali said she has a report compiled by the NPTA’s regional representative who has been conducting investigation at a particular school, publicly announced at a consultation in Chaguanas, that the teenage pregnant girls were all members of the school’s football team.

“In a school in south Trinidad, right now, there are eight girls that are pregnant in one school. It is not alleged, it is a fact, and as far as I have heard, no one has been arrested for having sex with these minors and these children are going to have to deliver babies in the hospitals,” she said.

The Trinidad and Tobago National Council of Parent Teacher’ Associations Incorporated, of which NPTA is a member, hosted a consultation yesterday entitled “Sex Education in Schools” at the Enterprise Government Primary School, Chaguanas.

Ramatali called for counselling for the young pregnant secondary school student footballers, telling the audience of parents, teachers, principals and other stakeholders that the fathers-to-be of the unborn children were also students from the same school.

The NPTA’s president said the association has not made any official report to the police, but the matter has been reported to the Ministry of Education.

Ramatali also expressed concerns that when the pregnant schoolgirls attend hospitals, they “receive very bad treatment at the hands of nurses as if to further punish them for becoming pregnant by teaching them a lesson.”

Saying that the crime against the students was a “cover-up”, Ramatali said that the NPTA was following up the matter very closely and a NPTA regional representative has been having discussions with the school’s principal.

She told the consultation NPTA has been flooded with complaints on a daily basis about issues of teenage pregnancy and sexual harassment at the nation’s primary and secondary schools.

Ramatali told Sunday Newsday after the consultation:

“I have a report on the matter, so I have all the facts of what is happening there. Those children need counselling. The regional representative has been going to the school, speaking to the principal.”

“It is a fact,” she told Newsday, “They are eight girls from a football team and based on this, there is need for us to discuss the issue of sex and sexuality in our nation’s schools.”

Ramatali said she feared were the eight girls not properly counselled, there was the risk that they could become so affected, they may drop out from school.

“Those girls must continue with their education after giving birth, and we must not lose these eight girls. The matter must be thoroughly investigated and whoever need to be held accountable, must be held accountable.” Expressing sadness over the incident in which she warned against any attempts to “cover-up” the issue, Ramatali said NPTA was very concerned about the development in the nation’s school system.

She renewed NPTA’s call for sex education in schools, saying yesterday’s consultation was so important for the stakeholders to craft a policy on sex education for students attending primary and secondary school.

“We have started the conversation with parents across the country, and we are going to state our position clearly without any fear of contradiction. Some religious bodies and parents are totally against anyone telling their children about sex in school as they feel it is the duty of the home to provide the information to children in a form that acknowledges their belief and values.”

She noted, however that NPTA’s big dilemma was that many parents and teachers do not even know how to start the conversation on sex education in school even though they have received the relevant training.

“We (NPTA) are flooded with complaints on a daily basis about issues of teenage pregnancy and sexual harassment at the nation’s primary and secondary schools,” she said.

Reading from a letter dated May 15, which she said she received from the PTA of a particular school in north Trinidad, Ramatali revealed that among the burning issues identified at the school, were teenage pregnancies, high level of school dropouts, violence, poor library and computer services, and lack of staff.

She said: “Form One students who enter as innocent students, are seeing the aggression of the more mature boys who check them out and many of us are aware of rape as well as sex in the classroom, sex under the steps.... just about anywhere our children are having sex in our nation’s schools.”

Saying that such activities have gone unchecked for far too long, Ramatali said:

“And we are wondering why so many of our children are being abused and murdered; why is society so traumatised, and why there is so little detection of crime.

“It is because we allow the perpetrators to do what they want with our young girls, creating families in many places without built-in support of the individual families. Our young people are having unprotected sex, some are dying, some are contracting diseases, some are having unplanned families, some are missing out on their education at the young stages of their lives and the time has come for us to face the reality.”

She said, too, the time has come for the Ministry of Education “to stop pussyfooting with our children’s lives and get into the business of the day by discussing the important subject in our nation’s schools.”

Principal of the Manzanilla Government Primary School, Theophilous Nedd, who chaired the proceedings, asked the question: why are teens getting pregnant and nobody being charged? Nedd also raised the question of whether parents should be held responsible for their teens becoming pregnant.

In his presentation at the forum, Health Education Officer with the Ministry of Health, Clethus Archie, told the audience some adults don’t know how to discuss sex with children.

Archie said: “Our children are suffering because of our lack of presenting in a powerful way, the issue of sex and sexuality. Each child that is abused, each child that is affected, each child that has very little knowledge of sexual education, is a victim of what could happen down the road when the issues come up.”

A team from the NPTA is expected to meet with the Ministry of Education to forward proposals for what is being termed “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” to be included as part of schools curriculums.

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