A youth rights advocate is pleading with policymakers to enact legislation so teenage girls under the age of 18 can access reproductive health care without their parents’ consent.
Speaking this morning at a round table discussion at the United Nations House at Marine Gardens, Hastings, Christ Church to commemorate World Population Day, Secretary of the Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) Tamaira Rowe reminded the audience that girls may consent to sex and the termination of pregnancies at the age of 16, according to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, and that there
were no laws prohibiting treatment of minors without parental consent.
However, she said teenage girls often had difficulty seeing a doctor for these services because they were being turned away by front line workers such as receptionists and nurses.
In fact, Rowe contended that it was not unusual for medical professionals to refuse to provide these services to those under the age of 18 because they feared it could be illegal.
“This is a cause for concern because this violates the sexual and reproductive rights of girls. In Article 7 of the Sexual Rights International Planned Parenthood Federation Declaration, it explains that all young persons have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
“This includes access to health care for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all sexual concerns, problems and disorders. Without uninhibited access, young girls are not protected from negative social and economic factors, which can result from unsafe sexual practices,” Rowe told the discussion on Investing in Adolescents-Advancing Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Care in Barbados hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) and the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA).
She warned that this denial of access opened the floodgates to other problems such as rape, child abuse, transactional relationships and/or sexual assault.
The advocate made reference to a 2006 survey of Sexual Practices of Evangelical Youth which found that 20 per cent of respondents’ first sexual experience was because they were forced or pressured.
Of those who said their first sexual experience took place before their 12th birthday, 20 per cent said it was with a family member, another 20 per cent said with a neighbour and eight per cent said it was with a member of the
The YAM secretary said it was for these reasons that those in leadership positions should influence the enactment of laws that are consistent with the UNFPA declaration.
She also called for meaningfully discussions with those in the medical field “as they are a critical link to the advancement of sexual reproductive health care”.
“The more we know about the concerns regarding teenage girls and provision of medical services to youth in general, the closer we are to making laws which are all-inclusive and protect the rights of all parties involved,” Rowe declared.
Meanwhile, BFPA Assistant Director of Medical Services Dr Shane Gill said an increasing number of teenagers were seeking services such as general medical consultations, surgical procedures and sexual and reproductive heath services, including contraceptive counselling, HIV and STI testing, pregnancy test and pelvic examinations from the association. He indicated that 322 young people up to the age of 19 visited the BFPA in 2015, representing seven per cent of the 4,392 clients who the association served last year.
He called on Barbadians not to dismiss the fact that adolescents are sexual beings, and will continue to engage in sexual activity.
“Again the attitude, ‘not my child’ cannot be the answer to this age-old gap in health care provision,” Dr Gill said.