I thought that, since it was election week, we had already reached the height of surreal and carnivalesque but, alas, amid all the news of the tightening of the gap between our two main parties, a small article crept in about the Juvenile Court calling upon legislators to lower the age of consent to the age of 14 to address the alleged ever-growing reality of sex among under-16s. I hope the Malta Tourism Authority takes my next suggestion and rebrands to include the slogan: “Malta: Never a Dull Moment.”

The case that brought about this suggestion centred on a 15-year-old boy and his 14-year-old girlfriend who had given birth. Since the age of consent in Malta is 16, social welfare officials had flagged the matter to the authorities, police investigations had been triggered and criminal charges were brought against the young parents. During the proceedings before the Juvenile Court, both parties opted not to testify against each other. This led the presiding magistrate to muse about the way forward as the court observed this case was not the first of its kind.

The truth is that we have had an issue with teen sex and the resulting pregnancies for decades at this point. Hell, even I, who am closer to 40 than I am to 30 at this point, know people who had pregnancy scares long before we were 16. Between 2008 and 2019, we had the highest rate of teen births in proportion to our population compared to Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and the EU as a whole. This is no joke.

What we all needed then and still need now are effective sexual education campaigns and perhaps a deeper understanding of what it actually means to have children at any age, for that matter. Lowering the age of consent may sort the legal side of the issue but, as usual, it would be nothing more than a quick fix that fails to address the core issue – a gaping lack of well-administered information that people depend on to make better decisions.

We can’t keep creating legal loopholes to tape over our issues- Anna Marie Galea

This was exactly the same situation when it came to the morning-after pill debacle a few years ago. Heated debate after debate took place about which pharmacists were okay with distributing it and whether or not the pill could be considered abortive but there was next to no education available for people to really think about what effects the pill may or may not have on them.

I will never forget standing behind a young girl and her friend in a queue a few years ago and overhearing her telling her friend that she was taking her second morning-after pill in the last couple of months because her boyfriend was treating it like a form of birth control.

We can’t keep creating legal loopholes to tape over our issues. No 14-year-old is in any mental or financial position to be raising a child but that’s not going to stop them having sex. Our institutions must stop playing coy, look at the statistics and stop acting like this is someone else’s problem. Parents, too, need to stop playing shrinking violets and protesting when their children do manage to get some information from their respective schools.

Ignorance doesn’t protect the vulnerable; it merely blinds them.

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