How can it be right to give 10-year-old girls contraceptive implants?

How can it be right to give 10-year-old girls contraceptive implants?

There are times when I sit here and think, did I miss the moment when the world suddenly went stark staring mad? Like last week, when I read in this newspaper that girls as young as 10 have been given the contraceptive implant.

I like to consider myself an open‑minded, liberal sort of person and I’m not so naive as to think that children under the age of consent are not having sex. Nor do I have an issue with children being taught about sex and relationships in schools. But this is something different entirely.

Freedom of Information disclosures show that in the past five years nearly 10,000 contraceptive implants have been used in youngsters below the age of consent, according to 61 of 160 NHS trusts surveyed: 281 cases involved girls of 13, while 56 were girls aged 12 or younger. Two were just 10 years old. There will parents who heard this news and their immediate reaction was horror, simply because they don’t like the idea that their child might be doing something that a doctor knows about and they don’t. Unfortunately, while I have sympathy for this position, that case has already been fought and lost.

In 1982 Victoria Gillick took her local health authority to court in an attempt to stop doctors from prescribing contraceptives to girls under 16 without their parents’ knowledge or consent. After a protracted legal fight, the case eventually went to the House of Lords where the original judgment was upheld. In essence, providing under-16s are able to make reasoned judgments on the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment, they are able to make decisions about their health care independently from their parents or guardians. Further guidelines – called Fraser guidelines — were then developed for doctors to assess whether or not they should proceed with providing treatment. A child is termed “Gillick competent” if, despite being legally a child, they are able to satisfy key conditions that they understand the implications of their decision. So we have to accept that sometimes youngsters will seek contraception and the parents might not know or approve.

But let’s look at this issue more carefully. A 10-year-old is a child. They can barely be held responsible for choosing what they wear or what they want to have for tea. They cannot make sensible, informed decisions about most aspects of their life, let alone about sex. Any sexual activity is wrong and should never be allowed to happen in any circumstances.

Of course, some of the hospital trusts involved issued statements, attempting to reassure us that contraceptive implants weren’t being used lightly and only in extreme circumstances. But to me, that is what is so worrying. For an implant even to be considered, there has to be very reasonable concerns that the girl is at risk of sexual exploitation. Actually, let’s call it what it is: rape. So there are doctors, nurses and social workers who have identified very young girls who they think might have been raped, or be at risk of it, and instead of immediately taking action to remove them from a dangerous environment, the first priority is making sure they don’t get pregnant. And that’s leaving aside the justifiable concerns that surround giving such young girls potent hormones — we simply don’t know the full effects on the developing body, because they have only ever been tested in women over the age of 18.

The clinical details and social circumstances of those young girls given the implants are unknown because of patient confidentiality, but even in situations where such children with learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, surely the priority is to ensure that they are in an environment where they are being cared for and protected? Why are we simply accepting, without any attempt to stop it, that their innocence might be taken from them or that they are being exposed to sexual abuse or assault on a regular basis? Being raped is not an inevitable consequence of having a learning disability.

The perverse irony is that while we as a society pursue ageing celebrities for historic sex offences, employing the full force of the law and congratulating ourselves for championing the oppressed and abused, we appear to be resigning ourselves to the inevitability of child rape going on in the here and now. That cannot be right.

Plain packaging on cigarettes offers no black-and-white benefits

A government proposal to force tobacco companies to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes is, according to this newspaper, likely to be opposed by up to 100 Tory MPs when they are given a free vote on it in the next few weeks. However, the proposal – welcomed by public health campaigners – has the backing of Labour and the Lib Dems and is likely to become law in May 2016.

A good thing, you might think – but the matter is not as clear-cut as you imagine.

Australia is the only country to have introduced plain packaging (from December 2012) and there is no evidence of the long‑term impact. Research suggests that teenagers who smoke infrequently tend to look at the health warnings more on plain packaging, while other findings show that this can dissuade youngsters from continuing to smoke. Plain packaging is also reported to leave smokers feeling less satisfied, believing that the quality of cigarettes has deteriorated. Whether all of this translates into fewer smokers is not known.

The Tory MP Nick de Bois also points to the fact that the amount of illicit tobacco finding its way into Australia has increased and there are concerns that a market flooded with counterfeit cigarettes will make them cheaper and more easily accessible to youngsters. It’s difficult to know what’s for the best.

Overall, though, I back plain packaging. The tobacco industry has been furiously denouncing the plans and I reason that if they’re against it, they must be worried. And that can only be a good thing.

Katie Hopkins’ right to pick a fight

It’s not often that I defend Katie Hopkins (above), the formerApprentice contestant who has become one of those people the nation loves to loathe for her often deliberately provocative statements. But when it comes to the row with Katie Price (the glamour model formerly known as Jordan) I think she’s right. Both women are on Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother, where Katie Price disclosed that her severely disabled 12-year-old son Harvey is driven to school in London from her home in Sussex which, she claimed, could cost up to £1,000 a return trip, paid for by the council. Katie Hopkins had the temerity to suggest that the multi-millionairess should perhaps pay this herself.

I understand that the council has a duty to provide transport, but what happened to means-testing? Rather than being a safety net for people fallen on hard times, access to money from the state is now seen as a right for everyone.

It’s because of cases like this that cuts have to be made and those who are really in need suffer.

By Max Pemberton,

The Telegraph, Monday 2 February 2015

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