Sexually Active Children Need Services
Children under 16, the age of consent, who are sexually active are in dire need of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, but we are too busy parading our warped morals and values while they suffer and scream desperately for our help. It's a pity that we are more interested in pandering to religiosity (read Christianity) to the detriment of our children and youth who are getting pregnant and becoming infected with sexuality transmitted infections (STIs), among other things.
Are we not concerned? Or is it that the national consensus to be hopelessly wedded to Christian 'values' takes precedence? I highly doubt it is a requirement that we focus more on criminalising sexually active children and deny them access to essential services, information, and commodities rather than focus on their needs to get into Heaven.
Whether we want to accept it or not, many of our children are having sex from an early age, and some of them have multiple sex partners. The age of sexual debut in Jamaica is around 14 years. We can't be so callous, careless, and uncaring. We cannot and shouldn't't ignore the data.
At the end of 2008, nearly 15 per cent of adolescent girls 15 to 19 years have been pregnant, according to the Reproductive Health Survey (RHS). Reports from the Registrar General Department (RGD) reveal that 36,008 children were born to adolescent girls 15 to 19 years and 888 to adolescent girls below 15 years between 2009 and 2012. It would be good to know what percentage of these girls who have ever been pregnant had a second child in their teens. That, I am sure, would be telling and would expose just how terribly we are failing our young people. In 2012, there were nearly 400,000 potential cases of HIV transmission among 15-24 year olds (Modes of Transmission Study). Rumours are that about 100 girls at one school are mothers.
Isn't this worrying, or are you quite comfortable just beating children with your Bible? Do these figures not impress on us the urgency with which we must act? Is this not reason enough to recognise the folly of the proposal to increase the age of consent given that there is overwhelming evidence that raising it to 18 will have no bearing on sexual debut, adolescent sexual activity, rates of sexually transmitted infections among adolescents, and adolescent pregnancy?
TIME IS NOT A LUXURY
We cannot continue to ignore the sexual and reproductive health needs of our children, especially those who are sexually active. We do not have the luxury of time to vacillate and dance around our laws and policies which continue to deny sexually active children access to essential health and social services.
I have lost count of the times these challenges have been ventilated in countless meetings and consultations by my colleagues, and most important, children and youth. The agony and distress I hear in their voices are evidence of the dire situation and the urgency with which we must act.
I know many of us are unwilling to allow ourselves to comprehend our ethical and moral obligation to act in the best interest of our children. The data should be used as a catalyst for action, for change.
We need to ensure that our children, whether they are sexually active or not, have access to non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health services. We need to allow medical and other professionals to treat their needs without fear of criminal sanctions.
Let us stop pussyfooting around with the lives of our children. The Government, by being party to the International Bill of Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, is obligated to act in the best interest of children at all times and ensure that they enjoy the 'highest attainable standard of health'.
Let us ensure the protection of our children, especially vulnerable groups, which are often disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; early and unintended adolescent pregnancy; and unsafe abortions, among other issues. Let us ensure that they can have access to condoms and other contraceptives, lubricants, pregnancy tests, HIV testing, STI screening, antiretroviral treatment, and other commodities and services.
Now is not the time to pretend children aren't having sex and that providing them with essential services will encourage others to become sexually active as well.