There has always been a lot of controversy over the contraception and its availability to young girls. At the moment I am conducting research for a pitch for a feature as part of my course. At the time we were given the piece of work, the Isle of Wight announced that it would be conducting a pilot scheme allowing girls as young as 13 access to the contraceptive pill without having to go to their GP.
Age of consent
The age of consent varies between jurisdictions and the type of sexual act, the sex of the actors and other restrictions such as the abuses of positions of trust.
Traditionally, age of consent was a matter for the family to decide and more often than not coincided with puberty.
The first recorded age of consent was more than 800 years ago in 1275 when England made a law against rape. In the 12th Century, founder of Canon law in Europe, Gratian, accepted that the age of puberty for marriage should be between 12 and 14 but consent could be meaningful if the child was over seven years old.
Today, such a young age is shocking, because of the way society has moved on in the past hundreds of years. In their early teens, children are still in education and preparing for later life. In the past, children were sent to work earlier and married at a much younger age. Things were different, people lived for a shorter time and things were done a lot quicker in terms of marriage, and work.
Today there is less of a rush for these sorts of things.
The pill was discovered after the 1930’s when scientists found out that certain levels of hormones could prevent ovulation, and what first started out as a cure for menstrual problems, was soon authorised as a contraceptive measure in 1961. Since then, its popularity has grown and it is currently used by over 100 million women worldwide; including 3.5 million users in the UK alone.
In 2007, as part of the government’s aim to reduce unwanted pregnancies, leading surgeon and health minister of the time, Lord Darzi, recommended access to the Pill over the counter without needing consent from a parent or GP. He said that it would prevent unwanted pregnancies and would allow girls to be assessed by a health professional, who was not their GP, but who could grant them the contraceptive pill. This scheme was piloted in Lambeth and Southwark, the areas with the largest percentages of teenage pregnancies.
In 2008, 96 girls under the age of 18 were fell pregnant on the Isle of Wight and so authorities felt that there was something that had to be done.
Understandably, the pilot scheme has come under fire mainly because of the age of the girls who will be able to access the Pill.
But if there are so many girls under the age of consent who are clearly going out and having sex, regardless of what the law says and becoming pregnant unintentionally then shouldn’t we be helping them make up their own mind and protecting them against unwanted pregnancies.
To go to the pharmacist and ask for the morning after pill in the first place is already pretty scary for most girls, especially if they are under 18. But a move which promotes safe sex for girls as young as 13 should inevitably make it a less daunting experience.
And what’s the alternative? We all like to think that if a child is under 16 they won’t be having sex until they are much older and more mature, but in reality there’s no way to stop young teenagers having sex altogether, they will inevitably do it regardless of laws preventing it. So something must be done to protect them from getting pregnant. And I think that this is a responsible way for girls to tackle the risks.
In 2008, the Office of National Statistics revealed that 61.6% of pregnancies from girls under 16 were aborted out of the 7.8 per 1000 conceptions that took place under 16. Quite frankly, they shouldn’t be pregnant in the first place at that age, I mean they are still children themselves, so doing something to stop it is a good plan.
The only major concern which I have found is that, although the Pill is pretty much 100% effective, it does not protect you against STIs. Something shocking I found in my research was that half of the 2,557 people surveyed in the UK by the Office for National Statistics said TV programmes and adverts had informed them about STIs.
I think if girls are turning to the pill for effective contraception they need to realise that the Pill is only to prevent pregnancy, it will not protect you against STIs.
Another important point is that girls must also be aware that the Pill can be affected by some medication and it is important that they know about this. So if they are accessing the Pill from somewhere other than their GP and then go to their GP for something else and are prescribed medication, the GP may not know the girl is on the Pill and therefore will not warn the patient that their Pill could be affected.
Only time will tell if this scheme is effective or not in reducing the number of teen pregnancies but in the mean time, regardless of people having concerns about children as young as 13 having sex, there is clearly little that can be done to stop them and so all we can do is protect children against the repercussions of sex.
(N.B. Quick statistic
Just a random statistic for anyone interested: According to the netdoctor, if taken as prescribed, the Pill’s effectiveness is almost 100% effective. In comparison to the condom, if 100 women were to use the Pill as prescribed for a year they would not get pregnant, but if 100 women were to rely on condoms for a year, between two and five would fall pregnant, and if none used contraception then at least twenty would be likely to become pregnant. )