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Sex advice agency gives 11-year-olds free condom
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
(Filed: 28/03/2003)

Children as young as 11 are being given free condoms by a well-known health agency today and urged to practise putting them on - by using a banana.

Marie Stopes International UK is offering the contraceptives on its sexual health website even though the legal age at which young people can have sex in Britain is 16.

The organisation wants youngsters to become comfortable with condoms before they think about having sex. But critics say that the greater the availability of condoms to very young children the more likely they are to indulge in sexual activity.

Youngsters who visit the website receive a "condom" card within 28 days. It gives advice about sexually transmitted diseases and contains a single condom. Durex has donated 20,000 condoms for the campaign.

Stating that the legal age for sex is 16, the card says: "There are no age restrictions on buying condoms and so don't worry about getting a grilling at the shop counter. Also, any appointment with a doctor is confidential. They cannot tell your parents."

It goes on: "Maybe you don't plan on having sex for ages. Maybe you've already started experimenting. Either way, it's a good idea to get clued up about condoms.

"Take a good look at the condom we have sent you. How easy or difficult is it to open. Which way is it rolled up? Practise putting it on a banana or blow it up like a balloon."

Sam Guy, Marie Stopes' international adolescent adviser, denied the organisation was promoting sex and said the condom card was an "awareness tool". She said: "Not only are young people unaware of the benefits of condoms but many are also too embarrassed to buy and use them.

"Marie Stopes hopes to overcome these factors by encouraging young people to find out about condoms and be comfortable with them before they think about sex." But Robert Whelan, director of Family Youth Concern, said it was a publicity stunt and an encouragement to pre-teens to have sex.

"We are going round and round in a circle. Easy access to contraception means the barriers to sexual activity are lowered and teenagers are well known to be inefficient users of contraception."

The offer of condoms coincides with an NOP poll of 1,077 children, commissioned by Marie Stopes, which said more than 50 per cent of children aged 11-15 were unaware that condoms could prevent HIV.

Almost four out of 10 believed people under 16 could not buy condoms and only a third thought they know enough about contraception.

Sexual health issues topped their list of concerns: 66 per cent worried about contracting HIV; 64 per cent about other sexually transmitted infections; 61 per cent about pregnancy.

23 February 2003: Safe-sex policy 'spreads disease among young'
28 June 2002: School clinics to give pupils free condoms
1 December 2001: Give out free condoms at schools, says health group

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External links  
 
Marie Stopes International UK
 
Department of Health
 
Family Planning Association
 
Durex