Barbados and its regional neighbours must change their policies and laws governing reproductive health rights for adolescents.
Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne said while the Caribbean had high rates of teenage pregnancy, young people were still restricted in their access to sexual health care.
According to the international health specialist, regional laws and policies needed to be more in keeping with reality.
“The age of pregnancy is often below the age of majority. This alarming situation not only requires special healthcare programmes but also a legislative response.
“Young people both male and female are sexually active but are often denied access to sexual and reproductive health programmes without their parents’ permission,” Etienne said during her presentation on The Legal Issues Affecting Public Healthcare at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, Law Faculty Moot Court.
According to the Barbados Family Planning Association, while there is no actual law preventing persons under the age of 18 from accessing reproductive health care, it was the accepted policy at Government health facilities to deny treatment to these young people without the consent of a parent.
The same also applies to access to family planning. The status quo presents somewhat of an anomaly, officials note, as the age of sexual consent is 16-years-old.
In 2008, then Minister of Family, Youth and Sports Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo said at a high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV that lowering the age of medical consent from 18 to 16 years was but one of the policies Barbados was pursuing.
She had also pointed to evidence which suggested that this action would facilitate greater access to sexual and reproductive health services by young people who needed such, but did not have parental support.
However, the PAHO director said it was time for governments to do more than just talk about the issue, stressing that citizens needed to ensure current “out of touch policies”, are updated to reflect the current realities.
“The legislation that regulates access to health services needs to be reviewed with these issues in mind. Legislation is of great importance to many critical areas of public health. These laws need to be studied from varying perspectives, guided by the ministries of health with the full collaboration of other Government entities including the parliaments and courts.
“Participation by civil society is also essential because citizens are the ultimate beneficiaries of health action and when they express their needs and concerns their voices should be heard,” she said. (CM)