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FORCED RIPE! - Scores of Jamaica’s children are being pushed into their first sexual encounters

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 7:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

Almost half of all sexually active females in Jamaica between the ages of 15 and 24 years old were forced into their first sexual encounter.

The same is true of 16 per cent of adolescent boys between 10 and 15 years old, as they did not consent to their first sexual encounter.

It is for this reason that executive director for the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), Dr Carolyn Gomes, believes that there is a need for adolescents to have increased access to sexual-health information and support.

According to Gomes, adolescents remain a vulnerable population and more effort is needed to protect them against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

HIV PREVENTION

"We are very, very interested in preventing the kids from getting HIV, particularly in the face of statistics that say that 48.8 per cent of all sexually active females in the 15 to 24 year age group said they were coerced into having sex their first time," she said.

"If you look at the statistics in the region and around the world, the highest rate of new cases of HIV is in girls in the 15-19-year-old age group," Dr Gomes told Gleaner editors and reporters during a recent Editors' Forum.

These figures were among several presented in a document produced by the CVC, the Jamaica Family Planning Association and the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life last month.

The document is essentially a compilation of data on adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues in Jamaica and the region.

"Girls within the 15-19 age cohorts continue to be four to five times more vulnerable to HIV transmission than boys in the same age cohort due to high rates of forced sex reported by adolescent girls, as well as the high rate of sex with older men for financial gain (transactional sex)," the document highlighted.

The document shows that in 2015, 33 per cent of those between the ages of 15 and 24 years old in Jamaica reported having sex before 15.

The age of consent is 16 years old and the age one can access health care without parental consent is 18 years old.

"We have a really great interest in making sure that adolescents across the board are protected, cared for, and guided by their parents and the society through the very challenging years of adolescence, where they are vulnerable to making bad choices, to being forced, to falling into bad company," said Gomes.

ADOLESCENT PREGNANCY

The CVC executive director said she is also concerned that recent studies suggest that adolescents in Jamaica are becoming less knowledgeable about HIV prevention.

"It used to be about 42.2 per cent of our kids knew how to prevent HIV. This was in 2008. That is down, it is 38.5 per cent in 2012. It is falling," noted Gomes.

Apart from their susceptibility to HIV, Gomes pointed to the fact that adolescent pregnancy is a major issue. Jamaica currently has the fourth-highest adolescent pregnancy rate in the Caribbean, and 18 per cent of all births in Jamaica occur to teenagers.

"It is estimated that every adolescent pregnant mother cost this country US$2,000 per year," said Gomes.

In the meantime, civil-society advocate Carol Narcisse argued that too many adults are having their way with Jamaica's children.

According to Narcisse, children will need to be better informed so that they can help to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

"All of us had sex as teenagers or we were in the situation to have sex, so teenagers need comprehensive, appropriate information, and appropriate has nothing to do with your or my moral views. It has to do with what is the degree of exposure," argued Narcisse.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com