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Contraceptives - What's an Appropriate Age?

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26 June 2009*: At what age should a girl be able to go to the doctor and ask for the contraceptive pill without the consent of her parents? 10? 14? 18? 21? What age is the right age?

Namibia is changing its main law on children. The proposed new law, the Child Care and Protection Bill, aims to protect and assist Namibian children. Part of that law looks at the age people should be able to access contraceptives without their parent’s permission. Currently, the draft law is proposing that children who are 14 years old should be allowed to access contraceptives.

However, this is not yet law. In other countries the age at which young people can access contraceptives varies.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is inviting the public to give their opinions or raise their concerns before this draft becomes law.

  • In Ghana, anyone, regardless of age, can be provided with contraceptives and reproductive health services, if they are involved in sexual activity.
  • In South Africa, children can access contraceptives from the age of 12.
  • In Zimbabwe, children who are 16 can access contraceptives without their parent’s permission.

But what should Namibia do? Should 14-year-olds would be allowed to access birth control pills, injections and other forms of contraceptives by themselves?

We asked a number of young people were asked for their opinion.

Franz Sakaria, 21, Youth Leader, Physically Active Youth
"The world is moving on and people do things at different ages now. Different days people owned cell phones when they were only 20 and 21. Today you’ll find a 10-year-old that is owning a very expensive cell phone. Now, it’s the same thing when it comes to sex now. In the days our parents would have sex when they were probably 19, 20, 21. And now, it’s not the same anymore. We start at sex 11, 12, 13, 14. For this reason we have to do something about this. 14 year olds out there are having sex. For that reason we have to make sure we are trying to protect them also. We as seniors, as adults, we have to try to protect the kids and make sure we try to help them out."

Counney Kemp, 18, El Dorado Secondary School
I’m against lowering the age of consent to access contraceptives to 14. Giving kids contraceptives at an early age like 14 is like promoting sex. It’s like telling everybody once you turn 14, you can start having sex. Yet again, contraceptives like condoms that can be carried around aren’t very safe. So I’m totally against kids getting contraceptives of 14. When you’re 16, you’re more responsible and more matured. So when you use contraceptives like the pill, you’ll know when to take that and at which times.

Julanda Harases, 17, Grade 12, Jan Jonker Afrikaaner
I agree that the age of consent for girls to be able to take contraceptives should be changed to 14. By this time, most young people have reached puberty and cannot control their hormones. Many young girls experience pregnancies at this age, this is evident from what happens in my community. In today’s era, 14-year-olds are becoming sexually active, although they are not very responsible and are not ready to take responsibility for being actively involved. What I suggest is that young people should be better informed.

Annastacia Khaoses, Grade 11, Highline High School
As a teenager, I think its wrong for a 14-year-old to have contraceptives. Young women don’t even know which contraceptives suit their body best. You are not able to make your own informed decisions. Parental involvement in a child’s life is very important. Because in the end, they are the ones responsible to what happens to their children. That’s why I believe its best for the 14-year-old teenager to sit with her parents and discuss the pros and cons of using contraceptives. The parents can advise since they know better. The consequences that could happen, is why teenagers need to inform their parents on their wants.

What do you think?
Is the age of 14 appropriate to access contraceptives without the permission of a parent? Why or why not?

And what about this…
Should there be different rules about access to condoms compared to access to other forms of contraceptives, such as the birth control pill?

Send your comments by SMS to 081-424-1591.

Legal Assistance Centre is providing technical assistance in this process while UNICEF is providing of support.

An Interesting Case Study:
In the United States, a town with only one health clinic decided to require parental consent before issuing contraceptives to anyone under the age of 20. The result: the percentage of women who became pregnant increased. In fact, a survey found that 47% of minors in the state of Wisconsin would stop using all family planning clinic services if their parents found out they were seeking birth control pills or other contraceptives.

Would the same thing happen in Namibia? Is it already happening? Are the restrictions that young people face in accessing birth control and other contraceptives leading to teenage pregnancies?

Official statistics on pregnancy-related school drop-outs in Namibia for 2007 show that a total of 1465 learners dropped out for this reason – with 96% of them being girls. Could one contributing factor be the fact that young people may currently have difficulty accessing contraceptives?

What do you think?

Should 14-year-olds be allowed to access contraceptives by themselves?

You can take part in this discussion. Send your comments by SMS to 081-424-1591.

*Article Appeared in The Namibian, Youth Paper, 30 June 2009.

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