“The womb is the home of beginnings.”
Leroy Clarke, 2019
What kind of beginnings did 3,777 of our citizens experience between 2014 and 2018?
3,777 young women had children for whom they were neither psychologically nor financially prepared to nurture. 3,777 people have been born of trauma in a society which is already highly traumatised.
3,777… That’s the number of teenage pregnancies which occurred in Trinidad and Tobago during that period. All were unplanned.
The Ministers of Youth Affairs, Social Development, Health, Education and Legal Affairs should all be having sleepless nights because they are collectively presiding over the nurturing of these citizens who are likely to become deviants unless there is a structured intervention. The real impact of this will be felt when the anger and disappointment explodes in a few years.
Some of us ask out loudly: “When and how did we become so angry and uncaring?” It began in the womb and was nurtured in a society which continues to ignore consequences.
This simple statistic can be extrapolated to tell a story of disruption for at least 10,000 people, if we consider the mother, the child and the caregiver for both. This figure only focuses on the young girl. It ignores the fact that an equal number of men and boys engaged in statutory rape without facing any of the consequences.
Why should girls this young face this challenge alone?
What is needed is a structured social intervention programme aimed at finding the fathers, providing the social counselling and or guidance and, where appropriate, laying charges of statutory rape. In every area, we appear to be avoiding having people acknowledge and pay the consequences for their actions.
I saw a sense of helplessness and/or blame shifting by the people before the Joint Select Committee; from the Chief Education Officer, the Permanent Secretary, the Director. They all appeared to be bewildered and there was no energy directed towards a solution.
They collectively indicated a business-as-usual attitude, mouthing the platitudes that the families are not cooperative and the police are doing what they can. That is just unacceptable because the lives of 3,777 young girls are being negatively affected. That is unacceptable because we have 28 agencies responsible for administering child care. That is unacceptable because your taxes and mine are being used in a way that is ineffective and wasteful.
What is the solution? The Minister of Youth Affairs must publicly champion this plague and declare a goal of reducing teenage pregnancy by as little as 10% by September 2020. The first action would be to rationalise the roles and functions of the 28 agencies which are currently responsible for administering child care.
This can be followed by bringing together representatives from business, government, education, the medical field, the faith community, law enforcement and other non-profits to create a focused, cumulative effort. But none of this will work without the buy-in from young people and a softening of the hard attitudes about fornication and birth control.
Over the past five years, more than 13,000 people in this country graduated from UWI, St Augustine in the social sciences, so finding trained young people to tackle this problem cannot be difficult. What is needed is inspired leadership; people in power who are willing, able and inspired to tackle this thorny problem, unafraid to be pricked by the thorns and work with it until solutions are implemented.
3,777 people might have had better prospects in life if that kind of leadership existed.