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.


- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Hear hear! A very well written and to the point post. I agree wholeheartedly that to remove confidentiality does not address the problem at all – the only people this would be being requested by, as you say, are parents who have poor relationships with their children. However, it's exceptionally naieve to believe that people will ever address the root cause of a problem (usually in their own behaviour or attitude) when they can blame something else and attempt to pass a ridiculous law instead. You don't have to look far to find many more examples of such finger pointing by society to avoid dealing with the fact that we should look inward and not outward to solve most of our ills.

    01 Nov 2005, 12:47

  2. Confidentiality is a funny thing. And it's something that's especially warped in children.

    For example I am sure (now) that I could tell my parents anything, and they would.. not necessarily understand, but be supportive and stand by me. When I was a teenager that would definitely not have been the case. By which I mean I would not have felt sure that I could tell my parents anything. Because I was younger and they would have exploded. At least that's what i thought, and I was too dependent on them to risk them making my life a misery. (NB that's what I thought would happen at the time. not what would have happened).

    The major problem is-with laws on cigarettes and alcohol, you can for the large part enforce them. Obviously they are not infallible (as walking around leamington watching 14 year old chavs with beer cans will show) but for the most part they do act as a deterrent.

    The problem with the whole sex thing is that it's all very well saying 'you can't have sex under 16' but how on earth are you supposed to enforce it?! And from experience, if these things are much more open, and there's less of a prohibitve stance on them, they become less attractive and less dangerous. I'm not going into my personal experiences here. I was always legal.

    I don't think confidentiality should be removed at all-it's the right of the child to tell the parent-that's the way it should be done, the way that will hurt the least number of people (even though that will seem the hardest way to the child) but they should definitely advised, strongly, that they should tell their parents, and parents should be advised, strongly (in a general way) as to how to deal with situations such as these. NObody ever thinks of the parents in these cases.

    Tis all v confusion. I shall stop waffling now as i have lost my thread.

    01 Nov 2005, 13:01

  3. Chris W.

    Confidentiality in general is a sticky issue – but that's another story.

    A very well put point Sarah, one which sadly won't be considered by the masses because we're now living in a nanny state. It's not even going to be legal to drink on a train shortly from what I've been reading. As usual, it's a case of the masses spoiling things for the few.

    Children will experiment, it's a perfectly natural thing. Be that with cig's, alcohol, drugs (yikes) and even (gasp) sex. If it's with somebody of a similar age, then I don't see what the problem is with "underage" sex. It's an arbitrary age limit, based on what? Some coutries have higher limits, others lower…but why, when it's a perfectly natural thing? Again, a view for another day.

    IMHO children won't go to a GP for sex advice if it's not confidential, in the same way as adults won't go to sex health clinics if it wasn't confidential. Would adults go and have their "ithcy nad's" (sorry…) checked if they thought their boss at work would find out about the result? I doubt it. Why should (paranoid) teens (with raging hormones, and a desire to learn about the opposite / same sex) be any different?

    It'll be interesting when there's the first test case of somebody stating that their right to private family life under the ECHRA has been breached by this proposed(?) change in the law.

    01 Nov 2005, 14:32

  4. If the confidential advice/contraceptive-providing services are not available, SURELY the number of teenage pregnancies will rise HUGELY! If the Family Planning Clinic had not been available to me, either I've had ended up in huge trouble (ie with child) or the relationship between myself and parents would have been doomed forever when they are told what I'm up to.

    Doesn't matter how close your relationship with your parents is, (and I was very close to my parents,) there are some things that even the most understanding parents won't be comfortable with!! i.e. child having sex under 16, especially outside of any relationship. i.e. child deciding to sleep with boyfriend of two weeks, even if over 16. i.e. child going home with someone after a night clubbing. Yet, for loads of teenagers, this is all part and parcel of growing up.

    As it happens, I discovered years and years later than my mother read my diary when I was a teenager ("well, wouldn't you want to know what your 15 year old daughter was up to when you let her out at night?"), so turns out she knew everything anyway… no wonder we had such a volatile relationship!!

    02 Nov 2005, 10:21


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