21 May 2009

Child STIs on the rise

The number of British children being diagnosed with STIs has soared recently. And say experts, SA adolescents tend to engage in unsafe sex, putting them at similar risk.

The number of British children being diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has soared in recent years, according to government figures.

The increase in those under 16 diagnosed with a sexual disease was 58% - to 3,913 in 2007 from 2,474 in 2003.

The greatest increase was the number of cases of chlamydia, the world's most common STI, with a 90% rise in diagnoses, but there was also a rise in the number of cases of genital herpes and genital warts.

Dramatic increase in STIs amongst young people
The Department of Health said the rise in chlamydia had emerged because of the setting-up of a national screening programme in 2003 which had resulted in greater numbers of people being tested.

Last July, the independent Health Protection Agency reported there had been a 6% rise in the number of STIs across Britain, with young people disproportionately affected.

People aged 18-24 form just one in eight of the population but account for around half of all newly diagnosed STIs in the UK, the agency said.

Nearly one in 10 sexually active young women tested by the chlamydia screening programme in England in 2007 were found to have the infection, which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. One in 12 men were also found to be carrying the disease.

Sexual behaviour of SA adolescents
Given the prevalence of HIV in South Africa, sexual activity among adolescents may have even higher health risk implications. With more adolescents having sex at a younger age, the chances of contracting an STI, is even greater.

According to the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2003, delaying the age of sexual debut by encouraging sexual abstinence among young people is one of the major goals of the HIV prevention strategy.

The study reports that 6% of unmarried young women had their first sexual intercourse by age 15, compared to 9% of those who were married or cohabiting. A similar proportion of young married or cohabiting men (12%) first had sex at age 15.

Education was found to play a role in age of first sexual debut with only 4% of women with more than secondary education reporting they had had sex by age 15, while 19% with grades 1-5 education had had sex by age 15.

Adolescents engage in high risk sex
The UNAIDS indicator defines high risk sex as sex with a non-marital partner. According to this definition, South Africa has extremely high proportions of adolescents in the 15-19 age bracket, who engage in higher risk sex. Almost all sexually active women (99%) and men (99%) in this age group engage in higher risk sex.

However, in South Africa, marriage rates are low and sexual partnerships outside marital and cohabiting relationships are common. Many of these men and women may be in stable partnerships; however, as they are not married their relationships have been categorised as higher risk.

Reasons why sex education is important
According to Joan Campbell, a private social worker, there are many valid reasons why it is vitally important to sex educate very young children.

Research shows that children who are sex educated and receive sexual boundaries are less promiscuous when compared to their friends who have no sexual boundaries or sex education.

Increase in child molestation
Child molestation is also on the increase. Campbell says children without sexual boundaries who are in an environment where there is a lack of adequate supervision could get involved in problematic sexual behaviour. The child who is exposed to a sexualised atmosphere at home, or who is emotionally abused or neglected can act out problematic sexual behaviour.

A child showing signs of problematic sexual behaviour is of great concern because their victims are other children at school. A victim could become a perpetrator, which results in a vicious cycle of sexually misbehaviour. Parents need to protect their children against molestation by peers, older children and adults. By being an informed parent/child team, you can prevent a tragedy.

Most children are exposed to television, adverts, magazines and movies that provide the child with inaccurate information regarding sexuality. It is the parents' responsibility to teach the correct information and to put sex education into the parents own value perspective, says Campbell.

>(Reuters Health, Joan Campbell, Health24, Article updated by Thania Gopal, May 2009)

Department of Health: South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2003




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