Doctors put girls aged 10 on the pill
DOCTORS have prescribed the contraceptive pill to girls as young as 10, according to research that will reignite the debate over the spread of under-age sex in Britain.
The study, covering more than 35,000 girls, found there were 23 aged under 13 who had been given the pill either by family planning clinics or GPs. Of those, two were aged 10.
It is the first time such data on age have been disclosed and has prompted criticism that doctors may be condoning under-age sex or abuse. The research was conducted in Scotland, where sex with a girl under 13 is classified as rape. However, sex with a girl under 13 carries a maximum life sentence both north and south of the border.
The British Medical Association and General Medical Council tell doctors they can prescribe the pill to girls of any age if they are deemed mature enough to make the decision.
However, if they are aged under 13, the doctors are expected to report it to the police or social workers responsible for children at risk. It is not known whether this happened in the 23 cases or whether the children’s parents were informed.
James McLay, a clinical pharmacologist at Aberdeen University who led the study, said: “One of the worries we have is that people who are under 13 on the oral contraceptive should be reported to social workers because they are being subjected to rape.”
Mary Church, joint chairwoman of the BMA’s Scottish GPs’ committee, said: “GPs will not have taken the decision lightly.”
Martyn Walling, a Lincolnshire GP who runs a family planning clinic for teenagers, said he always alerted social workers or police when he prescribed contraception to girls under 13. He said he had issued them to girls aged 12 and defended doctors who prescribed to 10-year-olds.
“We wouldn’t dish out the contraceptive pill to 10-year-olds willy-nilly and we would need to discuss their case very carefully, but there would be a reason for giving the pill because unfortunately there are girls as young as 10 having intercourse.”
Walling said that when he questioned a 12-year-old about her sexual relationships with three boys aged under 16, she persuaded him she knew what she was doing. “I asked her if she understood the emotional involvement and the risks to her body and she said, ‘Yes, I do. If you do not prescribe the contraceptive pill, I am still going to have sex’.”
The study, to be published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal, involved an analysis of the prescribing records of every family planning clinic in Scotland as well as 161 GP practices.
Last year 25,000 girls in England aged 15 or under were prescribed the pill and 2,700 were given long-lasting contraceptive injections. The percentage of girls aged 13-15 who attended family planning clinics has risen from nearly 5% in 1993-4 to almost 10% in 2003-4.
Doctors said that in some cases the pill could have been prescribed to treat heavy or irregular periods.