BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Nov 27 – If the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had its way, teenagers across the Caribbean, who have reached the age of consent, would be able to access contraception and sexual and reproductive health services without a parent or guardian by his or her side.
It’s one of the outcomes the UN body is hoping for under the Integrated Strategic Framework for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy in the Caribbean.
According to ‘A Portrait of Adolescent Health in the Caribbean’ report, only 26.3 per cent of adolescents – 30 per cent boys and 24 per cent girls – who said they had sex always used some form of birth control.
And it’s not always because they don’t acknowledge or care about using protection, the UNFPA has found.
“One of the major barriers for adolescents in accessing sexual and reproductive health education and services, especially contraception, is the need for parental consent,” the UNFPA has acknowledged.
In Anguilla, for example, a minor may not consent to medical treatment without parental agreement. In Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, the laws are silent on the issue of whether a child can seek medical advice or treatment including contraceptive information without parental consent.
“These laws do not correspond with the Caribbean reality of early initiation of sexual activity among adolescents, or even the age of consent for sexual intercourse in some cases,” the UNFPA said as it highlighted the findings of a 2013 study which it commissioned. “This lack of ability for adolescents in obtaining medical services, including emergency contraception, along with the stigma attached to young girls engaging in sexual activity, usually puts adolescents at an increased risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortions.”
The Integrated Strategic Framework therefore makes a case for legislation to be amended or enacted to ensure that “adolescents have access to appropriate and quality reproductive health services and commodities, including contraception and emergency-contraception without the need for parental consent, at least at the age of consent, with entrenched confidentiality protection.”
It also goes a step further, and calls for amendment of the national health or insurance scheme to allow these adolescents to access any contraceptive methods free of charge.