Increasing the age of consent from 14 to 16 years has not helped protect girls from sexual exploitation, a Canadian study shows. The increase was effected in the country two years ago.
After analyzing British Columbia population-based data, researchers from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University have recommended additional strategies to safeguard vulnerable children and teens.
Their findings are published in the current issue the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.
According to the study's lead author, Bonnie Miller, there were two primary reasons given for changing the law: to protect younger teens from being sexually exploited by adults, and to prevent them from making poorer sexual health decisions because of immaturity.
"The law was changed to protect 14 and 15 year olds from adult sexual predators," says Miller, a research assistant in the UBC School of Nursing.
"But it turns out they're not the ones at greatest risk. We found children under 13, already protected by the existing law, were the ones most likely to report first sex with adults age 20 years or older."
Thirty-nine percent of teens who reported sex before age 12 had a first sexual partner who was 20 years or older, but only two to three per cent of 14 and 15 year olds had a first sexual partner who was 20 or older.
"It's important to protect children and teens from sexual exploitation," adds senior author Elizabeth Saewyc, professor of nursing and adolescent medicine at UBC. "But changes in laws should be based on evidence, and our evidence suggests this change isn't going to address the real problem."
The research team analyzed data from the 2008 B.C. Adolescent Health Survey, conducted by Saewyc and the McCreary Centre Society. The province-wide survey included more than 29,000 students in Grades 7 to 12.
When it comes to the other reason given for changing the law, are younger teens less responsible? Not generally. "Most teens are not having sex," says Miller, "but among those who are, we found that 14 and 15 year olds were generally making the same good decisions as 16 and 17 year olds."
The study's additional key findings include:
14-15-year-olds were more likely than 16-17 year-olds to report ever being forced to have sex, but this was most often by another youth, not adults
There were no significant differences between older and younger teens regarding sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or teen pregnancy
A slightly higher percentage of younger teens reported three or more sexual partners in the first year of having sex (18 per cent of younger males compared to nine per cent of older males, nine per cent of younger females compared to four per cent of older females)
Younger teens were more likely to use condoms, and older teens more likely to use hormonal birth control, but 80-90 per cent of all sexually active teens used some form of effective birth control, and one in three older and younger teens used both condoms and hormonal methods
"The study shows that society needs to do a better job at preventing sexual abuse among children and teens, using strategies that go beyond the legal arena," says Saewyc, who also holds a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Applied Public Health Chair in Youth Health.
"Laws usually only come into play after the abuse has already happened," she says. "If we also talk with young people about sexual violence and about healthy relationships, we can help change attitudes and myths about sexual abuse, encourage children and teens to tell someone if they've experienced abuse, and we may even help change behaviours such as forced sex among teens."
"CIHR recognizes the importance of supporting and advancing research aimed at improving the lives of the most vulnerable," says Nancy Edwards, Scientific Director of CIHR's Institute for Population and Public Health. "We believe that it is essential to work closely with community services, parents, schools and health professionals to tackle sexual abuse issues among children and youth."
The study received support from the CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health, Institute of Gender and Health, and Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health.
The message might be coming a little after Diwali in India. Still relevant. The smoke from fireworks is bad for health, particularly to people who suffer from asthma, says new Spanish research.
"The toxicological research has shown that many of the metallic particles in the smoke from fireworks are bio-reactive and can affect human health", Teresa Moreno, a researcher from the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA-CSIC), and lead author of the study .
The different colours and effects produced in these displays are achieved by adding metals to the gunpowder. When a pyrotechnic display takes place it releases a lot of smoke, liberating minute metallic particles (of a few microns in size, or even less), which are small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs.
"This poses a risk to health, and the effects are probably more acute in people with a background of asthma or cardiovascular problems", Moreno explains. "The effects in healthy people are still unknown, but common sense tells us it cannot be good to inhale the high levels of metallic particles in this smoke, even if this only happens a few times a year".
The study focused on the San Juan fiestas (the night of 23 June through to 24 June, 2008) in the Spanish city of Girona. The researchers analysed the levels of more than 30 chemical elements and compounds in May and June in order to confirm that the levels of lead, copper, strontium, potassium and magnesium skyrocketed after the fireworks were launched.
The team found the results were similar in other towns too. During the Mascletŕ (18 March), for example, in the Las Fallas fiestas in Valencia, levels of these elements rose once again, as well as others such as aluminium, titanium, barium and antimony, and also concentrations of nitric oxide (NO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).
Other studies have confirmed that the smoke from fireworks increases the presence of metallic particles in the skies over L'Alcora and Borriana (Castellón), Barcelona and even London (United Kingdom) during the Guy Fawkes' Night celebrations.
"People who live in cities already inhale significant amounts of contaminant particles stemming from traffic emissions, chimneys and cigarettes, and the dense smoke caused by fireworks only worsens this situation", points out Moreno.
The researcher compares the problem with that of tobacco. "The less you expose yourself to the smoke, the fewer negative effects it will have on your health, and so the best solution is to avoid inhaling it".
According to the scientists, in the absence of a ban on fireworks, spectators should stay well back in a place not affected by the smoke and pay attention to the wind direction. They also recommend that fireworks displays should be sited in a place that ensures the plume of smoke will blow away from densely populated areas.
An added problem is the chemical mixtures in the different kinds of fireworks, since some contain extremely toxic metals such as lead. "There should be strict controls on fireworks imports so that those with the potentially most dangerous chemical composition can be avoided", concludes Moreno.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.