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Grandparents at 30
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2003

by George Alleyne,

There continues to be a troubling rise in the incidence of teenage and pre-teen mothers in Trinidad and Tobago. Since most of the young mothers are or become dropouts from the school system, there is an unwelcome brake not merely on their own development, but that of the country as well. All too often the child age mothers, apart from not being prepared for the serious responsibility of rearing children, do not possess any specific skills needed on the job market, and, as a result, are not in a position to help themselves nor for that matter their children. So many of them, having children at an age when they should be concentrating on their studies and on their future, represent a minus quantity. The reflected lack of seriousness about life and its responsibilities frightens.

Yet Trinidad and Tobago stumbles on the road to developed nation status by 2020 each time a schoolgirl’s education is aborted because of pregnancy, or for whatever reason. Few of them become positive exemplars to their children, many of whom, if girls, continue the sad cycle of early pregnancy. And there is now the spectacle of individuals, who are mothers at 14 or 15, sometimes even younger, and grandmothers at 30. Within recent years I have come across a few of these unfortunate cases of extremely young grandmothers. Many of the girls lack love in their own homes, and become relatively easy prey to the blandishments, the sweet talk, of older youths, and sometimes that of men old enough to be their fathers. It should be emphasised that the youths and men who father the children of these minors, are even more irresponsible than the girls. Some adults tend to adopt the narrow and shortsighted view that the incidence of teenage girls having children, for which they are unprepared, does not affect them and the wider society and is of minimal concern. But this is wrong, as all too often school age mothers from lower income families, along with their issue, become charges on the State, recipients of Social Assistance.

On occasion you can see them on television newscasts, taking part in demonstrations, and arguing that they are single mothers with four or five children "to mind," protesting that Government is doing nothing to help them. But the help must begin through our educators seeking to motivate them to do better, and to stay on in school and complete their secondary education. The Ministry of Education must provide not simply courses in skills training, but qualified and motivated teachers as well. The Ministry should have surveys conducted in their schools to determine all those who, because of their families’ financial position, need to be beneficiaries of both breakfasts and lunches under the School Feeding Programme. The Education Ministry should recognise that breakfast can be a more important meal to children than lunch, as a child who goes to school hungry can become listless in class, ill prepared to study. I mentioned earlier the question of motivating our children, and since this column deals with school age mothers, then there should be a stimulating of an interest in the girls to improve their grades and to stay in school and obtain optimum benefits from the educational opportunities offered them.

Should this take place then the chances are that they would better position themselves for the market place, including seeking an upgrade of their vocational and other skills at tertiary institutions. This would reduce the possibility of their being dependent on the State for either handouts, or jobs in its "ten-day programmes," whether URP or otherwise. This would be of critical importance to them and the Treasury, particularly in view of the recent caution by Minister of Social Development, Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, that it has been estimated that by 2050 the aged would form 43 percent of the country’s population. It would be bordering on a national tragedy should a not insubstantial portion of the nation’s young be non productive, and looking to the State, to wit taxpayers, to support them. I wish to make this clear. The incidence of teenage pregnancies and school age mothers should not be viewed as relating simply to Trinidad and Tobago, but rather as an international problem. Nonetheless, it needs to be addressed, and urgently, if scores of our young are not to form part of the country’s statistics on the unemployed and under-employed.

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