Contraceptive implant given to 600 teens including girl aged 11
An organisation which teaches young people about having a healthy respect for sex and relationships has expressed concern that a 11-year-old girl was given a contraceptive implant in Northern Ireland.
The Love for Life organisation said that it was shocked to learn that the child was among more than 600 girls aged under 16 who were given the contraceptive device by health trusts over the past five years.
A report on the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday showed that out of 609 teenage girls, 21 were aged between 11 and 13 and were given the implant which does not require parental consent.
"Our concern, which is consistent with any health message, is that it's illegal to have sex at the age of 13 and under 16 you can't really give consent, although health professionals no doubt used the Fraser guidelines and the Gillick competency," said Judith Cairns, chief executive of the Co Armagh-based organisation.
"We would be concerned for any young person having sex under the age of 16 and we would discourage it. But having said that, if a young person is seeking help around this, it would be sensible in making those decisions."
Ms Cairns added that she would be concerned that the implant would only protect the child from pregnancy but not sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and that it appeared that the implants may have been provided without parental consent.
Love of Life worked with 117 post-primary schools throughout Northern Ireland and provided courses to support to 29,342 students.
Contraceptive hormone implants are inserted under the patient's skin to provide protection from pregnancy.
While the age of sexual consent is 16, parental consent for contraceptive treatment is not legally needed as long as young people are capable of understanding it.
Health professionals are required to use the Frazer guidelines and the Gillick competency measure to assess whether the young person understands what they are asking for.
The Nolan Show revealed that the 11-year-old was one of 237 girls who received implants in the Western Trust - 177 were aged 15, 48 were aged 14 and 11 were aged 13.
The Belfast and South Eastern trusts jointly gave the treatment to 207 girls under 16 while in the Northern Trust, 150 under-16s were treated.
The Southern Trust could only provide figures for the past year and said in total, 15 under 16s received the treatment - 10 were aged 15, three were aged 14; and two were 13.
The Northern Trust gave a statement which said that young people who visit clinics by themselves or with a friend are "always encouraged to talk to a parent or other significant adult about their visit".
It added that if child protection concerns a re identified, a referral is made to social services.
Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines refer to a 1982 legal case which looked specifically at whether doctors should be able to give contraceptive advice or treatment to under 16-year-olds without parental consent. They have been more widely used to help assess whether a child has the maturity to make their own decisions and to understand the implications of those decisions.