When several girls, ranging in ages 13 to 15, were discovered
to be pregnant or sexually active, a Form Two class at Malick
Senior Comprehensive School, Morvant, was ordered by the principal
to attend abstinence club meetings.
The class has 22 students.
The abstinence club was started at Malick last October in
an effort to introduce a new set of values.
principal felt students should be exposed to the programme
to help them make some wise choices, said teacher Bernice
James, manager of the club.
During club meetings, it came out that several of the 35 members
were sexually active. But despite James best efforts,
the students who were forced to attend have shown little interest.
Sometimes they are disruptive, said James.
Overall, however, despite some scepticism about the abstinence
message, James does not feel all is lost.
is not a cool thing. Perhaps thats why we dont
have many more (members), James added. And, in spite
of very widespread sexual activity among the younger
students, she believes the abstinence message was being heard.
are peeping through the windows. They are not coming in but
looking in, listening in, and moving on, she said.
Pregnant schoolgirls across the board
The case of pregnant and sexually active students of a Form
Two class is not exclusive to Malick Secondary Comprehensive.
But nobody knows the extent of the problem, least of all it
seems, the Ministry of Education.
has been happening across the board, contended James,
who also teaches Food & Nutrition and Management.
James, who has been a teacher at Malick for the past 28 years,
said pupils entering Form One at her school were already sexually
active. We are getting students from the junior secs
who already have babies, she said.
When James first started teaching at the school, student pregnancies
time, the girls were not getting pregnant. They focused on
school and were excited about it. They were more disciplined
and had a positive influence on each other, she recalled.
Now, she said, standards have fallen.
is accepted. We are moving the goal post all the time so nobody
has to make an effort to keep values, she said.
Once a girl begins to show signs of her pregnancy, the principal
calls in her parents or guardian. In most cases, parents are
asked to take the girl out of school until she gives birth.
After childbirth, young moms can return to school, but they
get no special treatment.
dont come back in where they left off, they have to
try and catch up. You dont get extra time...it is not
like they are on maternity leave, said James.
In most cases, James said, the mothers were proud of their
offspring and showed off to friends, fellow students, who
congratulated and complimented them.
could not give any statistics on student pregnancies in schools
and attempts by the Sunday Guardian to get data from the Ministry
of Education were largely unsuccessful.
Support services do exist to help pregnant schoolgirls, admitted
Mervyn Crichlow, communications specialist at the Ministry
of Education. He said he preferred, however, not to say how
many girls or schools have been affected.
Initially, he said figures were not available. Then he said
the Student Support Services Division does collect some data.
When asked if Sunday Guardian could have access to this information,
Crichlow said: I prefer not to make that available for
A request to the Student Services Division for the information
was refused. An official at the department said public officers
were not allowed to speak with the media and she referred
all questions to the Ministrys communication department.
Pressure on us to have sex
THE pressure to become sexually active is overwhelming, said
15-year-old Dara Schullere, the project director of Malicks
seeing it right in school. Cute boys talking to you. Girls
saying it feel so nice you dont know what you
missing out, said Amelia Richards, the clubs
public relations officer.
It is an experience with which Merkeir Carter, 16, the clubs
membership director, can identify.
Carter said she has girlfriends who keep telling her by not
having sex shes missing out.
In some cases, the girls said, they are encouraged, not by
boyfriends, but girlfriends to become sexually active.
give you that to use it, Carter said she has been told
by other girls.
have a boyfriend, she said, adding a girlfriend
knows him and is like girl, you eh giving he something?
Carter said her friend was now pregnant and has dropped out
you see these things you dont want to get involved (sexually)
Richards said before joining the club she practised abstinence.
I grew up in a Christian home, she said by way
But Richards was also concerned about sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs). I found there is a lot of STDs around
and the youths should know about it, she said.
But, according to Carter, that concern was not shared by everyone
in their age group. Some say everybody have to dead
and you must dead from something, she said.
The girls said society also bombards them with messages that
can encourage sex.
TV, listening to radio, it makes it seem that sex has no consequences,
said club member Catherine Fortune.
makes it seem fun and exciting, added the 15-year-old.
All these messages, the teenagers said, make it seem like
everyone is doing it and abstinence is therefore
is very hard to keep abstinent without support, said
Carter. The abstinence club helps in dealing with your
boyfriend and parents and thats why I joined,
Boys: Sex makes
me feel like a man
boys say when they have sex it makes them feel like a man.
Most boys feel if you love a girl you have to show her by
sexing her, said 15-year-old Marquis Thomas.
Thomas is the fund-raiser director of Malicks Abstinence
He admits it is not easy matter being a boy in an abstinence
club. Thomas and the clubs president Karlson Armour,
15, both said they have had to face taunts from both boys
take abstinence as a joke, said Armour.
And despite being a Christian and committed to abstinence,
Thomas said he was as susceptible as any other boy to a sexy
girl in tight pants.
The club, however, has helped him to get the better of his
desires. It is a guide to help you understand life and
let you know sex is not all, he said.
school wants to release information (on teen pregnancies).
They feel it is something that will bring shame to the school,
said Trevor Oliver, an executive member of the Principals
Association and a former president of TTUTA.
Because of this, he said, getting statistics on the number
of schoolgirls who become pregnant each year is very difficult.
know its happening but you cant say if its
one or ten. You cant accurately say if its on
the increase because of the data recording process,
He also said principals were not obligated to report student
pregnancies to the Education Ministry.
Oliver also said the education system ignores the possibility
of students becoming pregnant.
is still a situation where people dont expect it to
happen and no one wants it to happen in their school, so there
is no record of it, Oliver said.
And while there were no set procedures for dealing with pregnant
students, Oliver said there were unwritten laws which principals
were expected to follow.
These include calling in the girls parents, taking her
out of school, getting her transferred to another institution
and treating the issue with secrecy.
this day there is still a secretive approach to it. Everyone
wants it hush-hush, said Oliver.
it is felt, rightly or wrongly, that to protect the child
nothing should be said, he added.
Lamenting the continued reactive approach to the
problem, Oliver said when a student becomes pregnant it was
still considered a shame and disgrace to her family and school.
is no proactive approach to dealing with it or the recording
of data, he said.
Oliver said there ought to be a family life programme in schools
to help deal with the situation.
the years the Principals Association has asked to have
a family life structure set up...this has not been done in
any organised way, he said.
too long the Government has been pussyfooting with the implementation
of a Health and Family Life Programme in schools, said
Glennis Hyacinth, executive director of Advocates for Safe
Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity.
Health and family life programmes have already been implemented
in schools in several Caribbean countries, Hyacinth said during
a recent telephone interview,
is very backward in that respect, she said.
Hyacinth said at 15 per cent, the number of teenage pregnancies
in T&T was unacceptable.
are seeing more and more that younger people are getting involved
in sexual activity, she said.
Saying that there was a need for a comprehensive programme,
Hyacinth reminded that Aspire was not against abstinence but
that an abstinence message must be part of a bigger message.
She insisted there was need for a more holistic approach to
dealing with young people.
schools, NGOs are allowed to come in and chat with young people
about sexuality, but it is done in an ad-hoc way. It is not
structured, said Hyacinth.
the North/East district young girls are being helped by men
to go to school. The result of that is teenage pregnancy,
said Zena Ramatali president of the National Parent/Teacher
Association. Ramatali said that poverty and a lack of parental
guidance leave female students girls open to exploitation.
She said NPTA did not have data on the prevalence of teenage
pregnancy in the school system.
have started to do research on drop-outs because of teenage
pregnancy and those who cant cope, she said, noting
too, that the NPTA recently started a series of Health and
Family Life workshops.
is a preventative programme to help parents develop skills
to help them parent young people, said Ramatali of the
initiative which is partly funded by the Pan American Health
The NPTA president said there was a need to educate parents
who were unable to effectively guide their daughters.
started doing our bit, recognising the need for it,
2001, a girl between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth to a
babyit was her sixth child.
This was one of the preliminary findings of the Central Statistical
Offices 2001 Population and Vital Statistics Report.
More recent figures were not available.
Although the 2001 report has not yet been published, excerpts
are available from the CSO.
Figures collected for 2001 show that of the 2,629 babies born
to mothers in the 15 to 19 age group:
* 2,173 babies were first born
* 404 were second births
* 44 were their mothers third child
* six babies were to mothers who already had four children
* one baby was its mothers sixth child
2001 CSO also found:
* 25 babies were born to 14-year-old mothers
* four to 13-year-old girls
* one baby was born to a mother under the age of 13
An official at the CSO said in some cases, mothers in the
15 to 19 age group were married, most to older men.
The 2000 Population and Vital Statistics Report states that
almost 15 per cent of the babies born in T&T were to teenage
In 2000, births to teenage mothers amounted to 2,683
or 14.8 per cent of total live births, the report stated.
These figures, however, do not include teenagers whose pregnancies
ended in stillbirths or abortions.