Children having sex

According to the European Perinatal Health Report (EPHR) Malta has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the EU. Malta had a teenage delivery rate of 5.8 per cent of all women who gave birth in 2004, which is the year for which data were collected.

As a parent of a teenage daughter and a soon-to-be teenage son I cannot stop thinking that my own children have grown up exposed to a mentality where sexual intercourse between youngsters has to be taken for a fact. Although there are still parents who believe that they should not give in to such a loose mentality, I believe that many have simply given up, accepting that times have changed and there is next to nothing they can do to prevent their children from doing what their peers do as well. Promoting abstinence until one is married or in a serious relationship is always worth doing but one needs to be realistic in the face of a situation we may not have any control on.

So we are left with a situation where children are not only having sex but also having children at a very tender age . Do we care? Should we discuss such a situation? Should we be concerned? The reality is that a good number of children are simply fast-forwarding an important phase of their life, doing away with the latter part of their childhood and entering abruptly into the complex world of adulthood? Does this rapid transition leave any marks on these children?

Teenage pregnancy will surely disrupt the child's life at least for a year or so. Wouldn't this break have any effect on that child's prospect of securing a steady job and securing a future for her and her child? Some of these teenagers, particularly those coming difficult social backgrounds never return to school again.

Teenage pregnancy brings with it other risks. According to the Euro-Peristat report both early and late childbearing are associated with higher-than-average rates of preterm birth, growth restriction and perinatal (before and after birth) mortality. The report points out that increased risks for younger mothers have been associated with social and healthcare factors, including lack of antenatal care, unwanted or hidden pregnancies, poor nutrition and lower social status.

Most of the children would know who the father of their child is even though they would probably declare an ‘unknown' father in order to benefit from social assistance. However, in this day and age they would probably remain single rather than go through a forced marriage, and thank God for that. But this would also mean that they risk ending up as single parents because the father might soon find it convenient to disappear from the child's life to seek a future away from the burden of raising and maintaining a child.

Is there a solution to all this? Honestly, I don't know, however I know for sure that we should all be concerned. We should also ask ourselves whether there is something we are supposed to be doing and we are not. Are we providing sound sex education to our children? Is the National Sexual Health Policy which has not seen the light of the day yet, relevant to the needs of a fast evolving generation? Are we conveying the right messages to our children through formal or informal teaching?

Is ‘responsible behaviour' promoted enough by educators, parents and society as a whole? Do we need to look into our social assistance system particularly at the ‘unknown father' phenomenon without taking rash decisions and making blank statements?

Are we promoting the right values to the upcoming generation? Are we as parents making it easier for our children to act irresponsibly by conveying a message of tolerance, open-mindedness, unconditional support and even empathy? Should the Catholic Church shift the emphasis from the promotion of abstinence to the active preaching of responsible behaviour (with all its implications) across the board?

Whatever we decide, LET'S DO SOMETHING!

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