EVEN more disturbing than the disclosure of 3,777 teenage pregnancies between 2014 and 2018 is the fact that about half of these pregnancies were cases of statutory rape involving adult men impregnating minors. The figures alone make plain the State’s convoluted child welfare system is not working as it should. There are 28 separate agencies tasked, one way or another, with protecting minors. Yet, as noted by Independent Senator Paul Richards on Wednesday, there is no real evidence of an effective plan or strategy. Instead of efficient coordination, these entities seem like silos. Our children are going around in circles.
It might be near impossible for the State to reach into the families or communities that allow men to take advantage of girls. But greater levels of public awareness, a system of reporting that is fair and that encourages persons to come forward, as well as a perception of enforcement of laws all have a hand to play.
A national child policy has been approved by Cabinet and is currently out for consultation. But it’s not policy that matters, it’s implementation. If there’s anything the figures presented to Parliament’s committee on social services on Wednesday show, it’s that the State needs to stop demurring. Stop talking and start implementing the policy, regulations, laws that have been so painstakingly enacted and even litigated in court. A sex offenders registry might be a good way of deterring would-be perpetrators. But how does it really address the criminals who are acting out of compulsions stemming from their own abuse? Or the minors who are themselves falling afoul of the law? Or the persons who are of the belief that the State’s detection and enforcement of laws are lax?
Meanwhile, according to information from the Ministry of Health, about 26 per cent of students between 11 and 18 are sexually active. But we have news for the Ministry. Those figures are likely conservative when compared with the real situation. It’s regrettable our children seem to be growing up too fast. Yet, the issue is not the degree to which our children have become sexualised. The issue, as the figures make plain, is that half of the cases are due to an adult taking advantage. It’s the adults we need to be concerned with.
According to a report from the Pan American Health Organisation, there have been disturbing trends in the region. Although fertility has declined over the last few decades, adolescent fertility rates have only dropped marginally. Why does the Caribbean and Latin American have the second highest rate in the world, surpassed only by sub-Saharan Africa?
It's perverse. Children are being forced to grow up too soon, while adults are being allowed, through lax systems, to engage in unlawful conduct. This cannot stand.