Psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh says teenage pregnancies in Trinidad and Tobago average close to 62 a month.
And although adult sexual contact with a minor is a crime, not many of the men who father these children are being arrested and charged for the offence.
Deyalsingh said failure to implement laws has contributed to the current level of crime and lawlessness in Trinidad and Tobago.
“The majority of those fathers are not brought before the courts. We need to make examples of these men so others would know we are serious and our laws are indeed alive and not just a showpiece bit of nice legislation. If we had examples made of perpetrators it would remind men of the dire consequences they could face by inappropriate acts against a child,” he said in an interview with the Express yesterday.
Deyalsingh said citizens should be reminded that the Children’s Act 2012 stated that sexual intercourse or even sexual touching is a sexual offence with children under 18 years of age.
“We need to remind persons about the age of consent. The goal is to protect children from harm,” he said.
But why do young girls seek out older men?
According to Deyalsingh, teenage girls are still developing a sense of identity through adolescence. And throughout adolescence, they are laying the building blocks for self-esteem, feelings of self-worth and self-perception.
In some cases, he said girls are unable to relate to peers. Girls may feel misunderstood and view themselves as anomaly and feel isolated, he said.
“In isolation there is lack of validation or positive affirmation. Making them unknowingly starved for that kind of positive attention. This leaves one very vulnerable to inappropriate advances from an older suitor.
“In these situations one may feel flattered or even sophisticated in being chosen by an older male. They really fall in love and resist all attempts by others to end the relationship. So the ‘love factor ‘they may be treated better by an older man with experience,” he said.
Deyalsingh said poverty and financial stability or a means of survival — to put food on the table – was another reason girls may be drawn to older men.
Some girls may simply want “the bling” – expensive clothing, jewelry, expensive fetes and to show off to others while others may simply want protection, he said.
Deyalsingh said some mothers were also forcing their girls to an older provider and should be held liable.
“While some may see nothing wrong in such relationships, it is in fact emotionally and intellectually unbalanced and potentially exploitative. It is also illegal to have sexual relationships with persons under 18 years of age,” he said.
And what about the men?
Deyalsingh said some men actively seek out young girls.
“While many mothers would lament about maxi-taxis being mobile mattresses, it is not just the maxi-taxi driver but even stepfathers, relatives, close family friends are the ones. Parents need to look out for anyone giving too much attention to our children also might try to gain the child’s or parents’ trust by befriending them, with the goal of easy access to the child. Sexual molesters also choose jobs to get close to children,” he said.
He also said social media had become a major source of sexual grooming.
“Children are lured into a relationship and sometimes run away from home to meet absolute strangers with fake profiles. The Cybercrime unit has to be on the alert for this increasing menace to our children. Parents need to monitor children’s online activities. They need to look for extra money or gifts or change in outside time,” he said.
Deyalsingh said a system should be introduced where a parent can call the Child Protection Unit and give permission for monitoring of their child’s on-line activity.
He said sting operations should be set up to weed out these perpetrators.