Comment: Sexual health issues must be handled with sensitivity

Have your say

Years after sex education was first introduced in schools, the topic still stirs controversy. The plan to introduce sexual health clinics in all high schools in Edinburgh, including Catholic ones, is likely to be no exception.

Some parents will argue that this is a matter that should be the preserve of parents and it is not for outside parties to intrude into areas of personal conduct, particularly where these impinge directly on the moral and religious beliefs.

Others will insist on a full programme of consultation and communication about the scope and purpose of such clinics before giving their approval. And some will see it as evidence of a further extension of the state taking over the role of parents: a drive that will further shrink and diminish parental care as key influences in the socialisation of children.

These are issues that need to be handled with sensitivity and care, particularly parents who send their children to Catholic schools.

Yet even among those who share these concerns, there is a recognition, too, of the disruptive consequences of unwanted teenage pregnancy.

The UK has long had the highest teenage birth and abortion rates in Western Europe. Rates of teenage births are five times those in the Netherlands, double those in France and more than twice those in Germany. And for decades public agencies, welfare organisations, churches and voluntary groups have wrestled with the problems of under-16 conceptions in Scotland.

Few would deny that parents should have the determining say in matters of sexual and sexual health education. But the problem here is that there is no uniform standard of parenting.

The groups most vulnerable to becoming teenage parents include young people who are in or leaving care, or who are homeless or underachieving at school. Others include children of teenage parents, members of some ethnic groups, involved in crime, or who are living in areas with higher social deprivation.

That is why arming children of all backgrounds with as much information and advice as possible has to be welcomed. And it does not necessarily follow that this will encourage sexual activity: there is a multitude of other influences on young people.

That said, the approach needs to be carefully monitored and parents kept informed of what their 
children are being told and the services being offered.