Prepare and educate teens before lowering age of sexual consent, doctors say

Empowerment of adolescents, particularly young girls, needs to be tackled concomitantly with any change in legislation

Sexual health promotion, responsible sexual activity and empowerment of adolescents, particularly young girls, must be tackled concomitantly with any change in legislation to lower the age of sexual consent, the Malta Association of Publish Health Medicine (MAPHM) said.

A parliamentary select committee has discussed the possibility of lowering the age of consent to 16 years and the MAPHM has now called on parliamentarians and society to take into account the local public health context regarding sexual activity and behaviour in teenagers in Malta.

A national sexual health survey conducted in 2012 by the Directorate for Health Information and Research showed that 41% of person aged between 16 and 18 years reported having had sexual intercourse.

However, the survey also found a higher degree of misconceptions about contraception and pregnancy in 16-18 years olds with a high percentage (36%) of sexually active teens reported not using any contraception.

Pregnancies in mothers under 18 years have been declining steadily since 2009 and presently account for around 1.25% of total pregnancies

“This is a positive development and we believe that care must be taken to ensure that the trend is not reversed,” MAPHM president Miriam Azzopardi and secretary Roberto Debono said.

The survey also highlighted the importance of addressing risky behaviour ins the context of sexual activity. Data from the survey shows that 6.3% of 16-18 year olds were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when having sexual intercourse for the first time.

“MAPHM therefore strongly recommends that sexual health promotion, responsible sexual activity and empowerment of adolescents, particularly young girls, must be tackled concomitantly with any change in legislation.

“The necessary resources for such activities need to be planned and budgeted in advance with all key players from the health, education, youth, social and religious sectors coming on board.”

MAPHM said that the influence of alcohol and drugs should be acknowledged and investment should target holistic programmes aimed at increasing awareness over the consequences of having unplanned and unprotected sex while helping teenagers to adopt coping skills to avoid risky behaviour.

“It is paramount that continuous enforcement of present legislation on alcohol and drugs is undertaken.”

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