Contraceptives in schools? Let's at least discuss it

Monday, March 25, 2013

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Dr Sandra Knight, chair of the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), has revived the debate on whether schools should be allowed to provide students with contraceptives.

Dr Knight's support for the move is informed by her knowledge of an alarming number of students being parents. At one high school in the Corporate Area, she tells us in yesterday's Sunday Observer, more than 60 per cent of the students in a single grade are parents.

That is a staggering figure, and one that the country cannot choose to ignore. For it cuts to the heart of the issue highlighted in yesterday's story — the conflicting relationship between Jamaican law and the rights of children under a United Nations (UN) convention.

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.

Dr Knight is of the view that the law that prohibits children from accessing sexual reproductive health services needs to be abolished or adjusted. "It is impractical," she says. "We are ignoring an enormous problem... and it doesn't make sense we have the problem and ignore it."

In response, the minister of education, Rev Ronald Thwaites, has rejected the idea. "We believe that school is a place for learning and not for sex," he was reported as saying. "School is not for the distribution of contraceptives. That is the policy and it remains."

We can't say we are surprised by Minister Thwaites' response, for our education officials have long opposed the thought of contraceptives in schools, opting instead for the provision of family life counselling.

But Dr Knight does raise an important point, that regardless of the counselling services available, teenagers are having sex, and while we would prefer that they do not, we have a duty to ensure that they protect themselves, as there are other risks associated with sexual activity.

Her colleague, Ms Dianne Thomas, outreach director at the NFPB, pointed to one such risk — Jamaica's realisation of the 2030 development goals.

Ms Thomas' concern, we believe, is valid, because teenage pregnancies normally affect individuals' ability to complete their education. It is with that, and the health and social risks in mind, that we urge the country to at least discuss this issue seriously.

Maybe there is a convergence point for views on both sides of this issue. Our first response, though, should not be an outright rejection or embrace of the thought.




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