Parents for Choice: what we believe in

We do not want our children to feel uncomfortable discussing sexual and reproductive topics. We want them to have a safe platform to access the healthcare they need without fear of retribution | Jelena Bezzina, Daniela Attard and Anya Soldatova

We are a group of concerned parents who have come together to advocate for changes in the education and health care of all youth in Malta. 2020 has been an eye opener to many of us, and we feel we cannot possibly stay silent any longer!

As Parents for Choice, we believe that every student in every school in Malta should have access to comprehensive sexual education. This should not be based on luck, finances or circumstance, and most definitely not on religious or moral beliefs, as this is tantamount to discrimination.

The current situation with regards to sexual education in our schools is that it is entirely dependent on the school’s and the teacher’s personal views and how comfortable they feel with the subject at hand. Those who feel uncomfortable with certain topics simply choose to omit them, even if they are in the syllabus. We believe that all syllabi should be followed by all teachers in all schools. Failure to do so creates gaps between peers and an unsafe environment for children and adolescents in society.

We strongly object to the fact that in-class viewings of propaganda-style films such as ‘The silent scream’ are still the norm. This movie has been debunked by scientific evidence. It is nothing but a factually misleading film aimed at influencing very young and impressionable youth. We should instead be providing accurate facts as well as empowering them with the skills to think and advocate for themselves. Our youth should know that there is nothing wrong with exploring their sexuality, as long as they do it with mutual consent and in a safe environment.

As Parents for Choice, we believe that access to contraception, STI testing and essential reproductive and sexual healthcare, should be made available to all, as needed and without bias. We are alarmed that the rates of various sexually transmitted infections are rising. This, coupled with the low testing rates and the disappointingly low use of condoms are cause for concern. There is strong scientific evidence that a solid sex education would improve this situation.

There is also scientific evidence that the lack of adequate sexual education significantly contributes to the high rate of teen pregnancies resulting in a disturbing number of early school leavers. In 2019, 31 schoolgirls became pregnant, some as young as 14, a situation which we hope all would agree is untenable. We would rather see our teenage girls and boys embracing education and filling their lives with many worldly experiences to prepare them for life, rather than the current culture of normalising children raising children, often at the expense of education or financial freedom.

Health Minister Chris Fearne continues to promise reforms of our Sexual health Policy (reviewed last in 2010), but this has yet to materialise. COVID seems to be a convenient excuse. The irony is that it was COVID itself that brought to light the many realities faced by women and girls in Malta, and how unfit-for purpose access to reproductive health truly is. This is not just when it comes to abortion access. It includes access to contraceptives, many of which were out of stock at the start of this Pandemic. It now transpires that these are not classified as essential medicine! Other options such as IUDs and the contraceptive implant remain expensive with the cost being prohibitive to most young persons in Malta. The absence of free family planning clinics is sorely felt.

To make matters even worse, to this day, the morning after pill (MAP) is only available at Mater Dei for rape victims that are admitted to hospital. Yet another broken promise made by the health minister in 2016 when a group of women filed a petition for its availability. So here we are in July of 2021, the MAP is still not available 24/7, many pharmacists refuse to dispense it, so women and girls must jump through hoops to get it when the only way this medicine works is if it is taken as early as possible. How logical is this in a country where abortion is illegal under all circumstances?

Recently, the EU parliament approved the Matic report which recognizes access to contraception, reproductive healthcare (including but not limited to safe and legal abortion) and comprehensive sexual education, amongst many other important topics, as human rights. As parents we would like our children to have the same rights and access as their peers in the rest of Europe, and indeed the rest of the civilized world. Whilst we understand that, due to decades of these subjects being treated as taboo, the information provided in some of our schools is based on fear mongering, we strongly feel that it is time to campaign for education, awareness and factual information.

We know that abortions are happening on a daily basis in Malta and as parents we do not wish for young girls to face criminal sentences for exercising their right to make their own choices. We believe that every woman and every young girl deserves the dignity to make her own choices. We want Maltese society to trust them to take responsible decisions, and that also includes abortion.

It should be obvious that in order to prevent abortions, one must first focus on education, support and free and accessible contraception. Considering the number of women who access abortion either by pills being delivered to Malta or by travelling abroad, it is clear that the agenda of fear instigated by criminalization has not decreased abortions. Quite the opposite in fact. Criminalisation also contributes to stigma and increases anxiety in what is one of the most difficult decisions any pregnant person will ever need to make.

As Parents for Choice, we do not want our children to feel stigmatized or uncomfortable discussing sexual and reproductive topics. We want them to have a safe platform to access the services, information and healthcare they need without fear of retribution, judgement or bias. We can start by ensuring that a standardized curriculum in relation to sexual and reproductive health is included across all our schools and we look forward to collaborating with the departments of Education and Health in order to improve the quality of life for children, adolescents, women and young girls in Malta.

Jelena Bezzina, Daniela Attard and Anya Soldatova are members of Parents for Choice