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Pregnancy's as big a threat to our 11-year-old girls as catching a sexual infection.

Byline: By DEIRDRE O'DONOVAN

IRISH teens as young as 13 are being treated for STIs - but our 11-year-olds are just as likely to become pregnant as pick up something nasty.

Last week Health Minister Mary Harney horrified parents by saying the morning-after pill should be available to 11-year-olds.

But now Dr Derek Freedman, a specialist in treating sexually transmitted infections, has told mums and dads that they must face up to the fact that their kids can be sexually active.. and physically capable of becoming pregnant at a young age.

He said: "I've never seen someone as young as 11 with an infection, unfortunately it's more common to see someone like that with pregnancy.

"The youngest client I've treated was 13 years old and the number of teens presenting for treatment is on the rise."

Facing up to the reality, the Tanaiste made her remarks at the launch of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency annual report.

She said: "Girls as young as 11 are involved in sexual relationships. I think we have to deal with the reality and consequences of that.

"We have to make sure that if the morning-after pill is required that it is available to somebody in that age group.

"Clearly their parents have to be involved because they are under-age."

The minister added that girls in the 11 to 14 age group were regularly seeking the morning-after pill.

In one case an 11-year-old schoolgirl was asking for the morning-after pill THREE times a month.

But Dr Freedman said these vulnerable teens need our help and not our outrage: "The message here is that, for a variety of reasons, people are starting their sexual life before it's ideal for them to do so.

"And while one tries to advise people against it, there are people who are not only socially and economically deprived, but are also culturally deprived.

"That cultural deprivation can be of two types; one where they're just not helped or guided by their parents, or the second is where they can be reacting against very traditional advice.

"Sometimes this behaviour is a sign of an underlying psychological condition.

"Rather than telling people what they can do and what they can't do, I think it's the obligation of society and of the caring professions to provide aid and help for the vulnerable youth, help that is tailored to the individual, rather than tailored to the concepts and prejudices of any particular group.

"An open and caring attitude is really what's paramount."

This week new figures revealed yet another rise in the number of UK under-14s having abortions.

Dr Freedman said teenagers, who think pregnancy or STIs will never happen to them, need to think again: "Fortunately, though it is rare to see these infections in those so young, they are normal as infection so easily follows careless habits.

"In some cases the children involved are so young their immune systems are immature leaving them more susceptible to disease."

CAPTION(S):

Sarah Taylor, 13, with her daughter Chloe and, inset, young mum Mandy Bowie with her 10-month-old son Jordan
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 7, 2005
Words:512
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