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In the last three years, more than 15,000 under-16s were diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhoea, chlamydia and genital herpes. This is according to an investigation by the Daily Mirror, which found that roughly 200 of those whose wellness was affected by STIs were aged 12 or younger. This child sexual health problem has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, and campaigners are blaming this on politicians who have failed to make sex education compulsory.
According to Lisa Powers, policy director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, ‘We are suffering in this country from poor sexual health. This is partly down to the fact that we have had generations of people who have not had sex and relationships education in school. Young people are under more pressure than ever before because they do not just learn about sex in the playground, but also on the internet. Young people are not being taught about the dangers of having sex without a condom.’
Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator at the Sex Education Forum, commented, ‘Young people are not getting the sex education they need. We simply cannot go on like this. Some schools are providing excellent sex and relationships education, but others are not. We need to ensure all children have access to sexual health information that can help them make the right choices.’
Yet Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, argued that an increasingly casual attitude to underage sex in society as a whole has put our children’s wellbeing at risk. He noted, ‘We are paying a high price for turning a blind eye to the law on the age of consent which is intended to protect children under the age of 16. This underlines the failure of the so-called safe sex message promoted in the majority of schools and Government-funded sexual health initiatives. Far from improving the sexual health of the young, providing under-16s with easy access to contraception behind their parents’ backs has only seen the problem go further down the age range.’
However, when Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss reviewed Personal, Social, Health and Economic education, she ruled it was up to schools to decide what was taught, adding ‘Teachers are best placed to understand the needs of their pupils and do not need additional central prescription.’ Yet Nikita Hall, spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association, asserted, ‘If young people are to avoid getting STIs, they need information and relationship negotiating skills. The danger of this approach is that sex education will merely be paid lip service and young people will not get the information they need.’