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By Cecily Asson Tuesday, May 20 2014

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MONTHS after writing her 2013 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination, a girl became pregnant.

Having been successful at her examination, last September, the young mother-to-be, entered Form One at a secondary school in San Fernando. On March 28, she gave birth at the San Fernando General Hospital.

A 32-year-old Oropouche man has since been arrested and charged with having sex with a minor and his matter is now before the court.

Police yesterday revealed the information to Newsday as they embark on an investigation into a report that there are a number of pregnant girls attending the same secondary school in south Trinidad.

President of the National Parent Teachers Association Zena Ramatali on Saturday revealed reports of eight pregnant students at the school.

Police yesterday paid a visit to the school and confirmed four known cases of pregnancies which includes the girl who gave birth in March.

None of the girls have returned to the school, Newsday was told.

On Sunday, a press release from the Communications Unit of the Ministry of Education denied knowledge of any such report.

Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Clifton De Coteau however said yesterday his ministry is aware of the cases which he noted is also engaging the attention of the Ministry of Education and the Schools Support Services.

De Coteau told Newsday he learnt of the matter through one of his officers who recently attended an education seminar.

The Minister said, “It was at a seminar that the matter was brought to the attention of one of our officers. It is now being investigated by the Ministry of Education and the Student Support Services.”

Ramatali raised the issue of the teenage pregnancies during a public consultation at Enterprise Government Primary School in Chaguanas.

Addressing the topic “Sex Education in Schools” Ramatali made the startling revelation about eight pregnant students at a school. She claimed the girls were members of the school’s football team and identified one of them as a Form One student. The fathers-to-be, she said, were students of the same school. Ramatali went on to express her concern that no one had been arrested and charged for having sex with the minors. She also called for counselling for the students.

An article was subsequently carried in Sunday Newsday and in an interview, Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh recommended suspension for the schoolgirls and called for police to institute a criminal investigation once the girls are found to be under 16 years of age.

In a radio interview yesterday, Ramatali revealed the school’s principal had reported the matter to the Mon Repos Police Station. When contacted, Snr Supt Cecil Santana denied Ramatali’s claims of the principal’s report, but confirmed the case of the Form One student and the arrest of a man, not a boy, in relation to the pregnancy.

Santana told Newsday, “I have checked and there are no records that any such report was ever made. I detailed a detective corporal to the school to interview the principal and carry out further investigations. If the said reports were made I want to know who the report was made to and when.” He further said, “The Form One student had her baby in March and an Oropouche man is now before the court. There are no pregnant students attending school at this time.”

Santana also revealed two community police officers are assigned to the school.

“Up to last week they visited the school and no mention was made of that matter,” he said.

Ramatali yesterday told Newsday she felt like the messenger who was shot and no one was listening to her message. “The ministry is trying to cover up the issue,” Ramatali said.

She went on to ask, “How come the Ministry of Education doesn’t know about the issue when the FPA, UNFPA, Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development know?”

She said she has numerous pieces of correspondence on her desk from PTAs across the country expressing concerns about rising teenage pregnancies. The Ministry of Education, she said, has refused to meet with the NPTA over issues affecting schools. The last time they met with Gopeesingh was two years ago.

Ramatali said, “In the St George Education district, there are four students pregnant, one last term and three this term. It is the parents who are bringing it to our attention. There is a school where an area is known as ‘lovers lane’. Form Four students are the ones involved. In Sangre Grande, in Mayaro all over, parents are crying out for help. There needs to be a review of the secondary school curriculum, there is the need to ensure sexual and reproductive health education. Nobody is being held for impregnating girls.”

She continued, “If I perish as the president, then so be it, but I am prepared and I will be fearless in advocating this cause of sex education in schools.”

Executive Director of the Family Planning Association (FPA), Dona Da Costa-Martinez, yesterday offered her organisation’s fullest support in NPTA’s fight to have sex education a part of the schools’ curriculum.

She said, “This is not a matter to be swept under the carpet and FPA stands behind the NPTA in order to ensure that this matter is ventilated and a proper system of education is in place to address the sexuality needs of our young people.”

She continued, “Family Planning believes it is time. For years we have been championing the cause and we need all the other stakeholders to come on board and to call on the Ministry of Education to look at that curriculum again and to see whether it meets the needs of the young people.

“It is also important to state that sexuality education is far too important to be left to slow diffusion of information and misinformation that young people will acquire from movies, from music from televison, social media and each other.”

In the case of the pregnant teenagers, Da Costa-Martinez told Newsday that FPA was made aware of the issue after they were contacted by the United Nations Fund for Population Activity (UNFPA) on whether or not the FPA had intervened in the matter.

“They wanted to know if we had intervened and we were able to tell them we did and that we had partnered with the Mon Repos Community Police Caravan when they visited the school,” she said.

Da Costa-Martinez said the issue of teenage pregnancy is not new, as it happens all the time in primary and secondary schools, “but if we continue to sweep this issue under the carpet we are doing more harm to our children.”

Referring to the incident with Helen Bartlett who flogged her 12-year-old daughter after she posted pictures on social media, Da Costa-Martinez said she saw a mother who was afraid that her daughter would become pregnant.

“So therefore what are we doing to make sure parents have the information so that they could provide adequate support to their children when they reach the age of puberty?” she asked.

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