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Let us treat them! - JASL wants swift provisions to allow for treatment of minors with STIs

Published:Thursday | October 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM

With children as young as 11 years old presenting symptoms of sexually transmitted infections at their clinics every month, Jamaica Aids Support for Life (JASL) is cautioning that the HIV/STI epidemic will become more widespread if the law continues to prohibit the treatment of minors under 16 without parental permission.

Section 6 of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) requires that the authorities be called in when minors visit health facilities to for medical treatment.

The legislation mandates JASL to report on the basis that the child is either being abused or in need of care and protection.

In conjunction, Section 8 of the Law Reform Age of Majority Act states that only a child who has attained the age of 16 can consent to any medical treatment, otherwise, consent must be given by a parent or legal guardian.

"In most cases, the children are sexually active and the parents aren't aware. So the minute you bring up anything parental, they leave, and we're sure they're not coming back," declared Policy and Advocacy Officer for JASL Patrick Lalor during a Gleaner Editors' Forum held yesterday at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices yesterday.

"What we don't want to do is turn away any child and allow that child to go out with STIs and continue in any abusive situation because legislation prohibits us from intervening and time does not allow for us to get the authorities involved," he said.

"We don't have the power to detain them, so we cannot stop them from leaving once we insist on involving the parent."

Lalor listed gonorrhoea, syphilis, and chlamydia as the most common STIs for which children seek treatment.

In substantiating Lalor's claims, JASL Executive Director Kandasi Levermore reasoned that the Knowledge, Attitude, Practice, and Behaviour Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health showed that the age of initiation (into sexual activity) is lower than the age of consent.

"The average age of initiation for boys is 14 years old and for girls, it's 15 years old, and remember, that's an average. So, that is saying that you have children that are much younger than that engaging in sexual activity for it to be an average of 14 and 15 for the sexes," Levermore said.


Expecting something positive - Group awaits Parliament’s response to proposals

In July, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) made a submission to a joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the sexual offences and other related acts, particularly the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA), to allow for the provision of sexual and reproductive health-related services to children under 16 in specific circumstances.

To this end, Patrick Lalor, policy and advocacy officer for JASL, reasoned during a Gleaner Editors' Forum yesterday: "Our proposals are simply about acting in the best interest of the child, which is the tone of the CCPA.We cannot say if any of the changes we recommended will be adopted as yet, but we anticipate, based on the response of the committee to the proposals, that something positive will come out of it."

He continued: "If these changes do not come to fruition, what it will mean is that our Parliament would not have acted in the best interest of our children, and this is not just about JASL's mandate. It's also the country's mandate and a part of Vision 2030 to achieve the 90-90-90 set of goals by 2020 and to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. So if these changes are not made, it will only be a retrograde step."

Canon Garth Minott, board chairman of JASL, said the board was in full support of the intervention so as to enhance and expand the work of JASL.

"Certainly in relation to HIV, we have to end AIDS by 2030. That is the mandate that we have, therefore we have to clear all the traffic to ensure we meet those targets as a board," he said.

NOTE: 90-90-90 is a set of goals introduced by the United Nation's programme on HIV/AIDS in 2013. The idea is that by 2020, ninety per cent of people who are HIV-infected will be diagnosed, 90 per cent of people who are diagnosed will be on anti-retro viral treatment, and 90 per cent of those who receive antiretrovirals will be virally suppressed.