Protecting children?

Allison Pearson’s column in yesterday’s Telegraph gives pause for thought if one has children who are attending a mixed-sex school. In the absence of many single-sex state schools, not many people are able to afford private single-sex schools or to be able to give up an income to home school. As Pearson says, if this happens in an upper-class boarding school, it’s going to be happening in schools up and down the country.

It is scandalous that one the one hand parents are being asked to take responsibility for their children’s internet, politicians seem to be finally waking up to the fact that we live in an over-sexualised society and yet on the other parents are actively excluded from information pertaining to their children’s sexual health decisions.

Is it really such a consistent idea to be encouraging teenagers to be experimenting with sex so long as it is with each other and ‘consensual’ whilst at the same time acknowledging that children are exposed to unprecedented amounts of sexual pressure, regardless of their gender. How is encouraging children that it’s perfectly acceptable to sexually experiment with each other without their parents’ knowledge or consent going to do anything to address sexual exploitation? We are already seeing plenty of cases whereby young teens are abusing even younger children – telling children that perhaps they should try oral sex or mutual masturbation instead of full penetration is hardly conducive to a society that wants to protect its youngsters.

And before anyone moots yet more education is needed, take a look at this:

Teen STD diagnoses The figures are from the Health Protection Agency and are an amalgamation of the under 15 and 15-19 age brackets. Diagnoses of gonorrhoea have decreased which is a good thing, seeing as there is a worrying outbreak of an antibiotic resistant strain, which seems to be on the increase in the US, but the rest of the figures don’t look so great. I haven’t included cases of syphilis in teens because the numbers are too small to register on the scale, but it should be noted that between the years 2002 and 2011, diagnoses of this disease in teenagers increased by 96%. That our young people should be battling this potentially fatal and wholly avoidable chronic condition is absolutely horrifying.

When it comes to teenage pregnancy rates, the numbers state that the under-18 conception rate is at its lowest since 1969. This is obviously very good news, but it is not indicative that the teenage pregnancy strategy was in any way successful, in terms of teenagers’ sexual health, indicated by the chart above. When talking about the teenage pregnancy figures, we need to remember that the under 18 conception rate is for the age ranges 15-17. As Professor David Paton points out, the under 16 teenage pregnancy stats have seen little change between 1969 and 2012, fluctuating between 7 and 10 girls per 1,000 every year. In any event, even with the drop, the UK teen pregnancy figures are still amongst the highest in Western Europe, before we all start congratulating ourselves.

What is evidently happening is that more or at least the same amount of teenagers as previously are having sex, most of them are using long-acting reversible contraceptives or hormonal contraceptives like the pill and thus leaving themselves open to disease. The Health and Social care Information centre reports that the 16-19 year old age group had the highest number of attendances at contraceptive clinics of the entire female population and that oral contraception was the primary method of contraception for 45% of women who attended.

Clearly something is going awry with sex education in this country and it doesn’t take much to figure out what. More on this anon.

2 thoughts on “Protecting children?

  1. formerly the only (rare) cases of STDs this age group in sexually abused children. Horrifying figures that can only damage lives.

  2. I wonder how much of the increase in STDs in teens is a symptom of the failings in sex education and/or moral laxity or something else? While having a root around the internet before commenting on the above, I came across the following post(see: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2008/5/18/155516/198) it wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know – religiously conservative states in the US tend to lead the country when it comes rates of STDs and pregnancy in teens (not to mention higher rates of divorce, lone parent family and violent crime… but we won’t got there…). In Europe the picture is less clear, but it does appear that Britain tends to lead the continent when it comes to STD and teen pregnancy rates.

    Yet in many secular democracies, without the use of Christian morality (which let’s face it, doesn’t appear to work in the US or African for that matter – HIV rates are substantially higher in Christian, as opposed to Muslim countries) STDs and teen pregnancy remain low. Britain has tried to copy our European neighbours when it comes to sex education, yet still fails in protecting teenagers from STDs or promiscuity. Therefore I would suggest there is something else at play – I think there is the problem of our culture that also has impacted up on teenage sexual health.

    As I am writing up my PhD thesis at present, I support myself (now my AHRC funding has ended) doing locum social work. I’ve not worked in hands on adults’ social work for some years and now I’m back in the job, I have noticed there is a big shift to devolved budgets and direct payments – i.e. instead of social services setting up care packages for people needing social care at home, the push is to give them the money and they sort out their own care, once a care management assessment has stated they need the care. Almost all local authorities have also linked in with various charities and non-profit companies that can assist people to engage carers and take care of the various tax and insurance issues. It is actually a good idea – people can chose their own carers, yet the carers are also protected as ‘employees’ of the person being cared for.

    In May of last year I had been working with a young woman who had suffered a severe stroke (her 2nd) which had left her needing considerable care – she was also the mother of two children, one of whom had a substantial learning disability. In this instance, because the woman’s mother had stepped in as carer for both her daughter and children, I thought direct payments would be ideal. However the plan was rejected and so I engaged council supplied carers from an agency. Skip forward six months and now I am working at a central London hospital and I am engaged in part to try and boost the number of people receiving their care through Direct Payments in the boro’ I’m working for. Yet again and again people do not want them! They want the council to provide their care.

    I mention this because I think it part of the British malaise to expect the government (or in this case local government) to sort out our problems. I think this negation of responsibility may well transfer to the issues you have noted above: sex should not have consequences and if it does, well, there are tablets to take… you get the picture.

    I am not saying this is wholly the reason, but we do live in a society where we expect the government and its agencies to sort out our problems (and Christians are no exception – look at all the lobbying of Parliament for this or that social cause (usually having some sexual connection!) – which is really just an admission of impotence and looking to the state to do what they cannot do through witness and service). There is something curious about British culture, which is quite alien in other societies. We want, nay, demand RIGHTS, but are pretty weak when it comes to RESPONSIBILITIES!

    I don’t know what the answer to this aspect of the teenage STD epidemic is. I certainly don’t think religious moralising will get anyone very far… It certainly hasn’t worked in the USA and in our past, the churches may have been full etc. in Victorian Britain, yet syphilis was rife.

    A difficult issue – and one for which there are no simple answers… Tho’ I agree that parents should not be excluded from decisions children are making about their sexual activity. I also think children under the age of 18 should be covered by Children in Need legislation (Children Act 1989) – which of course they are… it is just not implemented. A 15 year old with an STD has been failed by society and their parents. Nor do I believe just shoving girls on the pill is ethically acceptable practice by our doctors.

    We don’t allow people under 18 on juries, because they are not deemed able to make important judgements – yet as a society we say it is fine to make important judgements about sex at the age of 13 or 14… Says it all really don’t it..?
    .

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