THE OPEN HAVERSACK: Contraceptives at school
Free contraceptives to school-aged adolescent children? The debate begins. Making free birth control available to these children would create much debate, condemnation by some, and acceptance by others. Indeed, this is a grey area many will never want to touch, but with the knowledge that many of our adolescents are sexually active, it is one some may want to explore.
Primarily abstinence is advocated in schools, especially for children who are under the age of sexual consent. However, in reality many teenagers are not heeding this message. Let us face it, many of our adolescents are sexually active, and have been before the age of 14. The evidence is recorded through the number of teen pregnancies, abortions and videos of sexual acts by schoolchildren seen.
From a developmental perspective, these children are at a stage where they are transitioning to sexual maturity. The same way they are maturing physically, they are maturing sexually – having sexual desires. In spite of what might be said or believed, many of them will engage in sexual intercourse. It is not wise to be stuck in a moralistic haze not believing that sexual intercourse is widespread among our young children. Given this knowledge, should contraceptives be made available to these children?
Proponents will argue that this will be a means to decrease the rates of teen pregnancy and school drop-outs. Conversely, others may say it is a way to encourage our young children to be sexually active, a way to promote promiscuity since they have the birth control at their disposal. It could also be said that the message sent to children would be not one of abstinence but one of “we have it, let’s do it”. Furthermore, some may say that the distribution of contraceptives does nothing to promote healthy relationships, healthy family formation and abstinence.
Ann, a 17-year-old sexually active student, feels that schools should be willing to provide contraceptives to students who make the choice to be sexually active despite being educated about all the potential risks of their behaviour.
Mary, 16, on the other hand thinks that having free access to contraceptives would send the incorrect message and encourage children to engage in sexual activity. She believes that parents need to instil positive values in their children and teach them self-respect so they will not buckle under pressure from peers to have sex.
It must be noted that children who are sexually active and become pregnant opt to have abortions to avoid the embarassment or other consequences. We need to continue to educate our children and promote abstinence. The message must be clear that early sexual activity and having a child as a teen have serious consequences. This can lead to contracting of diseases, dropping out of school and a delay in educational advancement. By contrast, teens who abstain from sex enhance their abilities to achieve short-term and long-term life goals. If children practise abstinence, then there will be no need for contraceptives.
• Rhonda A. Blackman is an educator, national development scholar and former president of the Early Childhood Association of Barbados Inc.