All entries for Tuesday 01 November 2005

November 01, 2005

Underage sex and confidentiality.

I'm sure I'm not be the only person who's worried about these potential changes in the law regarding the confidentiality of healthcare for children indulging in underage sex.

If we think that children under 16 don't have the right to choose whether they engage in sexual relations or smoke nicotine, why should we think that they have the maturity to decide whether to let on about their sexual relations? But aren't we then interfering with their fundamental human rights by stopping them from making independent decisions about their own bodies – if they've made the decision to go through with an 'adult' act with a possibly result being parenthood shouldn't they then be treated as adults? Yes, is is important to protect children from any potential dangers, but will it actually make them feel more protected if they are more scared of confessing their actions?

It seems that these changes are stimulated to a large extent by the Ian Huntley murders. Yes, these murders were terrible and future tragedies of a similar nature should be avoided. However, there were mistakes made in the investigation that would not have been rectified if the laws on confidentiality had been changed, and in any case this is a one-in-a-million event. Should the laws be changed in the hope of altering the outcome of a tiny minority of cases when the possible detrimental outcomes for the general population are so significant?

It is naive to think that getting rid of a confidential medical service will improve the rate of teenage pregnancy. Many people who are pro a change in the law are ignoring a fundamental factor. Children who are engaging in underage sex are far less likely to go to find help if they know it will not remain secret, but there's no guarantee that they'll be discouraged from the act itself as a result. A lack of a confidential service may discourage a small number from engaging in underage sex, but the effect it has on those who still choose to break the law I feel may well outweigh these benefits. I think many, many more teenagers will, as a result, suffer their problems alone (might this even increase the rate of cases of depression or attempted suicide)? And you might ask the parents demanding that the laws be changed to instead assess their relationships with their children: if a child is so scared of telling their parents about crucial life-changing decisions is the problem more with the relationship rather than the laws of the country?

I agree that ideally we should be able to conduct full investigation in to all possible incidents of child abuse. However, we must be realistic – if, as a result, less children speak out about their experiences the situation will not improve. I honestly don't think the high teenage pregnancy rate in the UK will be lowered by a change like this – the issue is far more deeply-rooted.


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