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The Debate: Accessing Contraceptives - What is an Appropriate Age?

Originally Aired:

Date: 11 May 2009
Program: Your Rights, Right Now! a weekly radio show from the Legal Assistance Centre.
Broadcast on: BASE fm, 106.2

The Debate: Accessing Contraceptives - What is an Appropriate Age?
Listen now to the podcast!

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?

PRESENTER: SCENE 1

Welcome to Your Rights, Right Now, a weekly show looking at human rights around Namibia. Currently, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is revising the Child Care and Protection Bill and the public is being invited to give their opinions or raise their concerns before this draft becomes law.

Today, we’re looking at the age that a person should be allowed to access contraceptives without the consent of his or her parents. In the proposed Child Care and Protection Bill, 14-year-olds would be allowed to access birth control pills, injections and other forms of contraceptives by themselves.

However, this is not yet law.

In fact, the age of 14 is an item in the Bill up for debate.

To get a better idea of what’s happening on the ground, Your Rights, Right Now met a group of young people with differing opinions on the appropriate age to access contraceptives. As you will hear, the girls had a different idea than the boys.

VOX POP – SUZANDI

I’m Suzandi Schifier and I’m against lowering the age of consent to access contraceptives to 14 year old. The reason being at 14 years old you’re not ready for it. Because when you do take contraceptives you need to be responsible. Cuz a 14-year-old still play. So at 14 you might forget because you’re not responsible yet. I mean, the legal age to sex is at 16 so why would you want a 14 year old to have contraceptives. Then you may as just well take, make the legal age of having sex at 14 then.

VOX POP – FRANZ

My name is Franz Sakaria and I’m for 14 year olds getting a hold of contraceptives. Number 1, the reason why I support this is because girls are believed to mature quicker than boys do. This applies more to girls though. I don’t know about the boys really though. When they’re 14, they still tend to be a bit childish. A 14-year-old girl, for example, need to take care of themselves because at the age of 14 they start going the puberty and stuff. And feeling sexual emotions for the older boys. For this reason, they need to protect themselves. When they go out there, when they go to parties and stuff the older boys hit on them and after a drink or two the boys take them away and they end up having sex with these older boys. So they need to carry these contraceptives with them. And now, the other thing for them now, about this whole thing, let’s say for example that the girls are involved and they have to talk to their parents about this stuff – they will not. Because their parents will not condone the activities that they are doing. The other thing is that peer pressure as well and independence also. Kids at the age of 14 do not like to listen to their parents, especially girls, they tend to be all cheeky and stuff like this so they will not talk to their parents about contraception.

VOX POP – COUNNEY

I’m Counney and 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 the motion of 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.

VOX POP – JASON

Hello. I’m Jason. If children have to ask for permission, parental permission from their parents, firstly they’ll be shy and the subject about sex will come up. And obviously parents never talk about sex with their children and stuff. Only some parents but they tend to skip the issue of having sex and encouraging the person to have sex. At that age of 14, your friends tend to encourage you like ‘just experiment, sex is good.’ If you experiment it will work for you. I personally think it’s okay to have contraceptives.

VOX POP – COUNNEY

This is Counney again. They keep on saying children, children, children. What does that tell us? You’re still a minor, meaning you’re parents are still responsible for you. How can you go for contraceptives? Contraceptives is a large word. There are different types of contraceptives you get. You get the condom, which is not 100 per cent safe. You get oral contraceptives which does not really work because you have to be totally mature to use that. And then you get surgical and rhythm contraceptives.

VOX POP – FRANZ

My name is Franz and I clearly do not agree with what my oppositions says. The main concern is the fact that 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 sort of try to protect the kids and make sure that we know they are having this, they are doing this so we shouldn’t try to interfere and just try to help them out.

PRESENTER – SCENE 2

Lots of interesting thoughts from this group of youth.

If the age that child can access contraceptives is lowered, will children be better protected from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases? Or will it mean that children may be exposed to sex at a younger age than before?

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.

But what do other countries do? The age at which young people can access contraceptives varies between different countries. Even in African countries that are close to Namibia, the rules differ.

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.

What should Namibia do?

SCENE 3 – PRESENTER

Something else to think about – 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. Your comments and input will help improve the proposed Child Care and Protection Act.

Is the age of 14 appropriate to access contraceptives without the permission of a parent?

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. Or write a letter to PO Box 604, Windhoek. Finally, you can fax your thoughts to 088-613-715.

PRESENTER – CLOSING

For more information, contact the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare or the Legal Assistance Centre.

Your Rights, Right Now sends a big thank-you to the team at Physically Active Youth, to the producers at the Legal Assistance Centre and to sound engineer Sammy Nakanyala. Special thanks to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare for revising the bill and UNICEF for the support they are giving to the process.

Remember, in a democracy, every voice matters. For Your Rights, Right Now, I’m Nunu.

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