Is the law to blame for the UK’s high teenage pregnancy rate?

March 31, 2013 6:00 pm

teen pregnancy Yes, as bizarre as it may sound – the over-criminalisation of all sexual activity between minors, is almost wholly responsible for the UK’s high teenage pregnancy rate and high teenage sex rate. Why? S.13 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (by virtue of s.9) criminalised ‘sexual touching’ between minors, however mild or innocent. Teenagers that enjoy a quick grope behind the bike shed are criminals, so says the law. Out of touch with the reality, there is an unstable foundation in which society is built upon. Teenagers, with their rushes of hormones and desires, do not know how to act, or more importantly – who to turn to. This means teenagers engage in unsafe and risky sex. Schools and parents do not know how to act. It’s all a bit of muddle; nobody wants to address the issue. Why should they? It is an illegal activity, after all!

Of course, we need to applaud the law for trying to protect children – as clumsy as it may be. It appears to be the classic case of the law-maker failing to accept a change in society. Remember back-street abortions? For quite some time, the law ignored the happenings in society despite how dangerous the outcome could be. The same scenario is before us now. Teenagers are having sex; it is not unsavoury or sordid – it is a part of growing up. Yet the law condemns it.

News stories note how our teen pregnancy rates are significantly higher than our European counterparts; they cry out ‘there needs to be a change.’ Yet, a suggestion of change on such a delicate and moral-ridden issue can be a difficult task. In an attempt to both protect teens yet acknowledge our culture; sexual activity between minors should not be criminalised – instead a very broad offence of ‘sexual exploitation’ should be created.

This means that any concerned parent, doctor, or even friend, who becomes aware of an exploitative or unsettling sexual relationship or sexual act, teen pregnancy statscan raise their concerns. There should be varying levels of exploitation from very mild exploitation to severe exploitation; the sentences should fit accordingly. That being said, a custodial sentence should not always be the answer. Taking note of the Victorian approach of dealing with young offenders, a community action should be taken. Instead of locking up a teenager, who may or may not be a victim of social injustices, a reformatory approach should be adopted. The defendant should engage in community service but also attend a ‘sex knowledge programme’, alongside normal schooling. This programme is not the typical ‘school sex education video’, but rather a way for the defendant to comprehend why his or her actions were wrong, by outlining the damaging effects of pre-mature sexual activity and other relevant issues. In this way, the teenager is given an opportunity to not only understand, but respect the law. To simply offer a custodial sentence, may cause more damage – the defendant who was a ‘normal teenager’ may become a criminal.

Once the law recognises that sex between teens happens, the government can then tackle the ‘British stuffiness.’ A nation-wide government scheme should take charge to ensure any sexually curious children are given advice, knowledge and emotional support. This scheme should promote the value of ‘love-making’, and encourage genuine relationships. This, in turn, would allow children to understand the benefit of waiting for the right person. Schools should also take a more active part in their own sex education; focusing on the emotional factors of sexual activity rather than just the biological bore.

It should become almost a pre-requisite that any teenagers, or teenage couples thinking of engaging in sexual activity should engage with a health centre initiative. This is not only to make a fully informed decision, but also to demonstrate they are acting sensibly in order to avoid an inquisition from the law. Most teenagers are likely to find their urges subsided once their curiosity has been killed. If not, then they are aware of any risks and will have the easily accessible resources to act responsibly. In addition, health-advisors would be able to notify the authorities of any worrying cases, where the teenager may be vulnerable or feel pressurised into sexual activity.

STDSWith the law and the government showing a degree of respect to teenagers by allowing them some autonomy, the attitudes of parents are likely to follow suit. In today’s society, we prefer to sweep the issue of teen sex under the rug and pretend it does not exist.  Once this is changed, parents will feel more comfortable about talking to their children about sexual activity.

Many blame the media and sexualised images, but concealing this part of life is only going to increase teenager’s curiosity. Sexual exploration between teenagers is completely normal. The problems are of course, exploitation, teen pregnancy and the risk of STDs. Under the current law, these problems will never be addressed. We will continue to sigh in jealousy over our European friends, with their low teenage pregnancy rates and the ability to openly discuss teenage sex.

 

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