Consider free condoms for kids aged 13, say MSPs

FREE contraception for pupils as young as 13 should be looked at as part of a drive to cut Scotland’s chronic teenage pregnancy rates, MSPs have said.

Duncan McNeill: 'Sexual health education needs to begin earlier'. Picture: PA

Sex education in the classroom should also be taught at an earlier age to raise awareness among youngsters, according to a report by Holyrood’s health and sport committee.

The report says a new national strategy is needed to tackle teenage pregnancy in Scotland which has among the highest rates in western Europe.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

The Scottish Government is also being asked to look into the way sex education is taught in Catholic schools in the west of Scotland after concerns were raised that some youngsters are “disadvantaged” by not being presented with the full picture.

Duncan McNeill: 'Sexual health education needs to begin earlier'. Picture: PA

Health committee convener Duncan McNeill said: “Scotland has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe, which has a long-lasting impact on generations of young parents and their children. This is why this committee is calling for a new strategy to tackle teenage pregnancy.

“Improved access to contraception or better access to high-quality sexual health education won’t in itself tackle our rates of teenage pregnancy. Our committee is confident that implementing this package of measures will bring about the step-change we need to make a real difference.”

MSPs noted sexual health and relationships education (SHRE) “from the earliest age possible” was likely to prove controversial.

At present, there is no age limit, giving discretion to teachers in consultation with parents.

“Nevertheless, the committee accepts the majority of the evidence presented to it that SHRE needs to begin earlier and that the majority of parents, many of whom feel ill-equipped to discuss sexual matters with their children, would welcome and support quality SHRE provisions from an early age,” the report concluded.

Concern was raised about Catholic schools. MSPs heard from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that it was “denied access to RC schools” – an accusation rejected by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.

Easily accessible contraception services were key to reducing the rate of pregnancy, the committee said. “Schemes such as the C Card, which makes condoms available at a range of venues to 13-24-year-olds at no cost, make an important contribution to ensuring contraception is easily accessible,” the report states. MSPs ruled out the morning-after pill being made available in schools.

The inquiry aimed to find out why Scotland has a higher rate of teenage pregnancy than most other western European countries, including the UK as a whole. There has been a small decline among the under-18 and under-20 age groups, but little change among under-16s.