Growing alarm as contraction of STDS among Trinidadian school children rises
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad authorities are grappling with an alarming level of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among schoolchildren.
Last year alone, five primary school students tested positive for the HIV virus and scores more have tested positive for other STDs, officials from the Ministry of Education and Health reported to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament examining the issue.
Guidance officer in the Ministry of Education Darlene Smith said of the five children diagnosed with HIV, two are boys, ages 8 and 11, and three girls are seven, nine and ten years old. Education Minister Anthony Garcia subsequently clarified that those five children did not contract the virus through sexual activity, but were born with the virus.
Stressing that the ministry has a zero tolerance policy on discrimination, Smith said that the HIV infected children would “remain in the system unless their health factors should warrant that they should be removed.”
Separate and distinct from these cases, specialist medical officer Dr Aruna Divakaruni said, the level of sexual activity among children was worrying. She said a substantial number of school-aged children had been seeking the services of the Queen’s Park Counselling Centre.
“They have older partners. Most of the time they are abused by stepfathers or a brother or cousin or somebody like that,” she said, adding “others [are] engaged in sexual activity willingly”.
Data measuring the prevalence of STDs among school children between 2012 and 2015 show that over 300 children were infected with STDs, including HIV, gonorrhoea and syphilis.
Dr Divakaruni lamented that despite the fact children were engaging in sex, parents and some schools have been pushing back against the teaching of sexual education by qualified medical professionals in the classroom.
She said that many parents complained that students were being educated “too much” about sex, which they believe would encourage them to engage in sexual activity.
“We sent our trained doctors to schools to teach children, even to teach teachers and other staff members about STDs. I, myself, attended quite a few schools to teach them and to educate them to include awareness of STDs in children, but we faced a lot of resistance from the schools and teachers and even from parents of the children.”
Chief Education Officer Harrilal Seecharan said efforts are underway to address the problem, revealing that consultations have been ongoing with stakeholders, including the National Parent-Teacher Association and the various denominational boards.