Contraceptive injections or implants for 13-year-olds. And all that at school without necessarily the knowledge of their parents. That is the latest of the desperate efforts of the UK authorities to contain teen pregnancies.
In letters demanding "urgent action to accelerate progress to the 2010 [teenage pregnancy] target", health and education ministers tell the heads of councils and primary care trusts to establish more "school-based contraception clinics" and bring about "an overall increase in the uptake of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC)."
AdvertisementThe documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 21 local authorities where teenage pregnancy rates have stagnated or risen have been singled out and told to push the injections and implants.
The letter to Stoke-on-Trent says: "A key priority over the next six months is the roll-out of school based services and further development of young people's sexual health services. This needs to include, as a priority, the provision of long-acting contraception to ensure all young people have the choice of effective contraception."
Stockton-on-Tees is told: "It is essential to use additional contraception funding to improve the provision and uptake of LARC."
Tameside is asked to ensure that jabs and implants are "targeted at areas with high and increasing rates of teenage pregnancy and repeat abortions".
According to official figures for 2007/8, there are 1,200 girls aged under 15 taking long-acting contraception, as well as 2,900 15-year-olds and 11,500 girls aged 16 or 17.
Figures from five of England's 152 primary care trusts revealed that injections and implants have been given to girls as young as 13. Research carried out this year at drop-in services at 16 schools in Bristol found that two per cent of girls had been given the injections.
The Government wants to see a big increase in the uptake because it has identified failures by teenage girls to take the daily pill correctly as one reason for soaring under-age pregnancies in the UK, which has higher rates than anywhere in Europe, Telegraph reported.
Critics warn that the controversial move will promote promiscuity and that injections and implants will not protect against the rampant spread of sexually transmitted disease. Some health experts also say that the drugs are unsuitable for girls who are still growing.
Dr Hans Christian Raabe, a GP and medical coordinator of the Council for Health and Wholeness, a Christian organisation, said: "There are concerns that using them over long periods might have an impact on bone growth. The other issue is it gives an impression of safety that is not there. Girls will think 'Nothing can happen to me because I can't get pregnant.' But the rates of sexually transmitted diseases are frightening. There has been an explosion and yet young people are given a false sense of security.
"And will it work? I have not seen a single convincing study to show that the provision of contraception leads to a reduction in teenage pregnancy. What is needed is behavioural change."
But Julie Bentley, the chief executive of the Family Planning Association, defended the Government's policy: "Women of all ages, including young people, should be able to access the contraceptive method that suits them best, including LARC," she said.
"LARC is an incredibly effective method. It is currently much underused and we expect training and funding to help improve access to it."
One in three secondary schools now have drop-in clinics where children can receive condoms, the pill, the morning after pill and, increasingly, contraceptive injections. Trafford, not one of the authorities on the list, is consulting on a plan to train pharmacists in teenage pregnancy "hot spot" areas to offer LARC to young women.
Kevin Taylor, the father of Kizzy Neal, who got pregnant at 14, said despite what his family had gone through he would not have wanted his daughter to have the jab.
"The biggest danger with Government instructing bodies to put more girls on contraceptive implants or injections is that they might become involved in encouragement, lessening the act of underage sexual activity even further," he said.
"We, more than most families, are fully aware of the growing problem and would not wish these circumstances on any parent. There does seem to be a need for this kind of facility, but I think combined support from parents, teachers and health workers will have more of a positive impact in the end."
Sue Pheasant, a parent who has campaigned on sex education issues, said: "It seems the answer to everything is a pill or an injection. Young people are very confused. We really need to say to them that if you don't want to get pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted disease, just say no, and give them the resources and support so they are able to do that."
A nurse in Gateshead caused outrage in 2005 when she revealed that she gave a contractive injection to a schoolgirl in the lavatories of a McDonald's restaurant.