Controversy surrounds contraception agenda for Indigenous children
Family and women’s groups speak out against “government approval of underage sex”
The Government-approved use of a contraceptive implant on Indigenous girls as young as 12 has faced a barrage of criticism from Opposition MPs and family groups who claim that the Government is approving illegal and potentially harmful underage sex.
The small Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, south west of Rockhampton in Queensland, has become the focus of intense scrutiny after the state’s opposition child safety spokeswoman, Jann Stuckey, travelled there in March, 2008.
Mrs Stuckey was told by concerned Woorabinda residents that a number of children, including some who are disabled, had been given the implant. According to Mrs Stuckey, the residents had reported the practice to the Department of Child Safety but nothing had been done to investigate the matter further and the practice had continued on up to 12 girls.
Mayor of Woorabinda, Roderick Tobane, supports the use of the implant on the girls, although he has admitted he would not approve underage sex for his own children.
While Mr Tobane could not confirm that any of the children are disabled, he is now pushing for restrictions on community members wanting to speak to politicians or the media about their concerns. In an interview with the ABCs Annie Guest, Mr Tobane said he would no longer tolerate bad publicity from community whistle-blowers.
The Mayor urged concerned citizens to approach the police, rather than politicians.
Queensland Health says the practice is rare, but Mrs Stuckey disagrees. It has been revealed that up to 12 children have been given the implant. In a community of less than 1000, Mrs Stuckey estimates this to be 20% of the population’s 12 year olds. “Hardly what I would call a last resort,” she said.
Queensland Health acting chief health officer Linda Selvey said, “There are cases where a young person's decision-making process is impaired in some way and they are simply unable to make informed decisions about their health and their body, including their sexual behaviour and contraception."
While the State Opposition is claiming that parental consent is not always sought, the State Government is claiming that it is. Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, said that for children in the care of the state, the Child Safety Department makes the decision. Family advocacy groups say this approach is wrought with complications and have expressed concern that the implant could be used to cover up incest and rape.
Gail Instance, Executive Director of Family Life International Australia, believes there is nothing more likely to encourage underage sex than to give young people contraceptives.
“A report from Perth recently showed that since the Pill has been available over the counter, the abortion rate among teenagers has increased and there has been an explosion of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia. The same things have happened in the UK. It's only a matter of time before authorities in Queensland are complaining about an increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases there too,” she says.
Penrith doctor, Emma Whiteley, believes that the only thing the practice protects a child from is pregnancy. “The implant doesn’t protect against rape, physical and sexual abuse or STDs. Children who are too young to make the decision to use contraception, and who need a guardian to sign the consent form are too young to be having sex. This practice conveys tacit government approval of underage sex.”
Another complication of the practice, says Dr Whiteley, is the lack of knowledge about the long-term effects of contraceptive implants. “Implanon is a slow-release hormone which prevents pregnancy for up to 3 years. Who knows what long-term effects this will have on the fertility of these children?”
© Eva Whiteley 2008