KSU organised a National Youth Debate on Sexual Health and the Age of Consent on the 22nd of October at the new Parliament building in Valletta. Amongst many things discussed, we addressed the inconsistency between the different ages of consent that occur throughout the various aspects of the law, and the possible reasons for such.
Seeing as laws generally reflect the fabric of our society, it would be a misstep to have laws in place that do not place childrens’ interest at paramount consideration. It was discovered that there are certain archaic laws which needn’t be in place anymore, or rather, need to be revised. The Commissioner for Children, Ms. Helen D’Amato stated, that, for example, seeing as people are not getting married at age 14 anymore, and Canon Law reflects this older trend, perhaps it’s time to update it and allow it to reflect today’s society to a greater degree. With that logic, the audience also leaned towards the idea that since youths are engaging in sexual activity before the age of 18, perhaps it’s time to also change that law to reflect the current situation.
Moving on to the topic of sexual education in schools, the general consensus amongst the student population present at the debate, was that the current educational system is inadequate in its protection of the ever-changing needs of today’s youth; both socially, as well as legally. The panel was of the opinion that the methods of education ought to be improved, whereas the audience leaned more towards a revamp of the pre-existing policy. There was a suggestion in order to have teachers being taught themselves, an interesting point was raised to the effect of “why is a priest teaching children about sexual education?” from the audience, begging the question: are the educators sufficiently educated?
Another important factor that was tackled, was the issue of parents not kept in the loop regarding the syllabus being taught to their children, and hence, are not sufficiently equipped to handle any questions that their children might regarding various subjects. A suggestion from the audience was the introduction of non-compulsory workshops for parents of pre-adolescent children in order to prepare them for the years to come and to continue to supplement their children’s academic education with more real, personal discussions that are well-informed, ensuring that children are given a holistic sexual health education. One may draw parallels from the recent issue in Malta surrounding the LGBTI books that were donated to schools and ensuing uproar from a small percentage of parents. The parents of these children were not informed of what was going on and were forced to make snap judgements regarding books based solely on what they read in the newspaper – a contributing factor to the fact that the entire issue was blown well out of proportion. As Hon. Claudette Buttiġieġ pointed out by drawing a comparison to her own experiences raising a child, informing the parents about that which is happening in school ought to be of paramount importance. The students feel that a differentiation between informing the parents and consulting the parents is necessary though – no parent is “consulted” on any other syllabus ex. biology or maths, so “consultation” should be not introduced per se, but a parallel understanding of the current substance of the lessons should be sufficient.
A further point of interest was an assessment of the current education system where children are not taught about sexual health from a young age, and we posed the question “what age should children be taught?”. The idea was that children should be approached in accordance with that which they can handle and be informed in an age-appropriate manner – regardless of the actual age at which they are learning.
Regarding the issue of sexual health clinics and their current availability to young people, it was felt that there is not enough being done to promote safe sex. One contributing factor would be that minors are not given medical information even when they have the courage to ask for it, because of the legal hurdles involved, and we believe that even if the age of consent is not lowered, minors should be allowed to talk to medical professionals and get answers to their questions without these professionals crossing any ethical boundaries that are currently in place. There should be clearance for medical professionals to give information of this nature without the prior consultation and consent from parents. This is what we feel would actually safeguard the interests of the child.
While the GU Clinic is a great initiative and a very good starting point, the availability of the clinic ought to be more known to those who might need to use it, perhaps through better advertising of its services throughout youth-dense locations. The set up of this clinic can be improved upon, to increase its accessibility. One possible suggestion was to include a GU Clinic within the already-established network of polyclinics found in many Maltese localities on certain days or times, increasing the reach of information disseminated and the likelihood that a person will actually avail themselves of the service. Another was the possible introduction of a GU Clinic at the University of Malta, in order to tackle the ever increasing need for such services amongst youth. A definite step forward can be seen through the approval of the introduction of condom machines in Students’ House at the University; a clear sign that we are willing to increase that which we do to further educate and alleviate the stigma that surrounds discussing sexual health in a positive way. This coupled with the holistic sexual health campaign undertaken by KSU this year, ought to be a step in the right direction: out of the darkness and into the light.