SOME 35 girls, age 12 or under, gave birth in a seven-year period. This was revealed the thirteenth report of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Social Services and Public Administration recently laid in Parliament. These figures were collected at the main public hospitals in Port of Spain, San Fernando, Mount Hope, Sangre Grande, and Tobago for 2008-2015.
In that period, some 2,645 girls age 13-16 gave birth. Some 11,717 girls age 17-19 also became mothers.
This sum of 14,397 teenage and pre-teenage girls giving birth made up nine per cent (one in 11) of all births.
The area with the highest number of teen births was Port of Spain followed by St George East, while the lowest rate was in St Patrick.
The report cited Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi in 2016 saying that for 2011-2015, some 764 abortions were done on girls 13-19 at three major public hospitals.
The JSC said, “TT has one of the lowest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the region.”
It said the adolescent fertility rate in TT fell from 86 cases per 1,000 girls in 1980 to 34 cases per 1,000 in 2015. The Latin America and Caribbean regional average rate is 66 cases per 1,000, compared to a world average of 46 cases, and a US rate of 30 cases and a Canada rate of 11 cases.
The report said 211 males younger than 18 had fathered babies with teenage girls in the period 2014-2018. Some 2,382 males age 18 or over had fathered babies with teenage girls. The report detailed the fathers aged 20 and over. Some 1,395 were 20-30 years, 146 were 31-40, 24 were 41-50, two were 51-60, and one male was 60 years or over.
“Teenage pregnancy is closely linked with child sexual abuse.”
The report listed the major factors which increase the risk of teenage girls becoming pregnant.
The Child Welfare League noted a rise in teenage pregnancy due to “a breakdown in family life and a lack of supervision of minors left home alone for extended periods of time."
The TT Association of Psychologists (TTAP) said risk factors included a low level of educational attainment and being a school drop-outs.
The child’s family background can also pose a risk, notably death of a parent during childhood, having a mother who was a pregnant teenager, unstable home environments, lack of protective factors, and being economically disadvantaged.
Events in the child’s life pose a risk namely physical and/or sexual abuse, traumatic events, prior substance use and abuse, early child marriage, and low levels of social and emotional support.
TTAP said teenage mothers are at a higher risk than normal for mental health issues such as self-harm and suicide thoughts/attempts, depression, mood swings, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, post natal depression and feelings of worthlessness.
Saying the pregnancy rate has dropped in girls 13-16, the report urged the ministry to set targets for further reduction and to maintain the low mortality rate in this population. The report mulled the idea of the ministry seeking more details of the fathers of the babies of teenage girls but noted such efforts could deter men from coming forward to declare involvement in the pregnancy.