Are condoms in schools the solution?
Esther Tyson, Contributor
The recent report that Dr Sandra Knight, chair of the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), has called for the revival of the debate on schools distributing condoms, in light of the discovery that one Corporate Area high school has some 60 per cent of its students in one grade being parents, leads back to the question of whether we will continue putting Band-Aid on our problems or deal with the wider issues that they point to.
The news report points out that Dr Knight is concerned because of the conflicting relationship between Jamaican law and the rights of children under a United Nations (UN) convention. The report states that the UN prescribes that children have the right to sexual reproductive-health services, while Jamaican law defines anyone under the age of 18 years as a child and, as such, is prevented from accessing sexual reproductive health information and/or services, even though the age of consent here is 16 years.
There are many issues embedded in this statement.
At first glance, there is confusion between the age of consent for sexual involvement and access to sexual reproductive health information and services. The law gives consent for children to have sex at age 16, then another law prevents them from having access to sexual reproductive-health information and services before age 18. This conflict needs to be addressed.
CHILDREN HAVING SEX
Second, we are saying that it is fine for children to be having sex. Being sexually active, however, means that you are ready to be a parent, since no contraceptive, especially the condom, is foolproof. How can we legalise children having sex when they cannot support themselves economically, nor are they mature enough to be parents?
The concern that we are not obeying the UN convention indicates that we are not examining whether the UN's position is the correct one for our nation, where we need to focus on strengthening our family structure, building parental involvement in the lives of their children, and developing a sense of responsibility among our people for their sexual conduct. This push for children to have access to sexual reproductive health services without their parents' consent contradicts that focus.
Furthermore, are we saying that only children aged 16 and over are to access these services? Are we aware, and I am sure Dr Knight is, that the ages of the young mothers at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, span from age 12? In other words, as soon as they have passed puberty, girls are having babies. Are we saying, therefore, that once children pass puberty, they are to be given condoms, since they are having sex at younger and younger ages? Is this really the solution to the wider issues? What about parents who want to supervise their children's sexual development up to age 18? Will this supervisory right be taken from the parents?
Recent neurological studies on the teenage brain, using magnetic resonance imaging, show that teenagers are controlled by the emotional centre of the brain while the prefrontal lobe that controls mature decisions is largely developed by age 25. The PBS-produced 'Frontline Report' of January 2002 indicated the following: "Despite all the new scientific research, 'Inside the Teenage Brain' suggests that there is a consensus among experts that the most beneficial thing for teenagers is good relationships with their parents."
Deflowered by Dons
In light of this, how do we reconcile the push for children to be independent of their parents when making sexual decisions when, in fact, what they need is a closer relationship?
Another implied issue is whether the men with whom these girls are having sex are all teenagers like themselves. We know, in Jamaica, that in a number of communities ruled by dons, the young nubile girls are expected to be deflowered by these men. Will distributing condoms in schools deal with this? Has research been done to find out who the fathers of these children are who are born to girls under 16 years of age?
Where are the teeth to the law to deal with these older men who are illegally having sex with young girls? Where is the drive to get our fathers to be responsible for bringing life into this earth? Although the law has been passed for fathers' names to be on birth certificates, it is not being enforced.
Will distributing condoms in school, address the cultural mores that say that if young girls do not have a baby in their teen years, they are 'mules'? Will it affect the established practice of incest, which is so embedded in our culture? Will it heal the widespread emotional scars inflicted on our young women by early sexual initiation, many times forced?
Campaign for FAMILY PLANNING
Will providing condoms in schools change the culture of 'a nuh nutten, a little sex', when jurors fail to convict rapists in the courts or judges simply give them a slap on the wrist?
We need to push an aggressive campaign for strong family life practices, not just a strong campaign for condoms in school. We need to address the destructive cultural practices that promote irresponsible sexual behaviour, focusing on not just the young girls who are mothers but also the young men who are fathers, and older men who father children with young girls.
We need to challenge the widespread incestuous sexual practices in our nation. We must change the belief that sex 'a nuh nutten'! It clearly is something if, in response to so many young mothers in one grade level in a school, our NFPB is raising an alarm and pushing for condoms in schools as a solution.
Jamaica is faced with harsh economic realities, a high level of crime, widespread family dysfunction, and a high level of mentally disturbed persons. There is an underlined problem that we are not dealing with. We need to look to that and stop the Band-Aid treatment.