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Green light for pupil tour of red light area

They're off to Amsterdam to see how Dutch handle drugs, alcohol and sex

Teachers taking their pupils abroad usually try to keep them far away from drugs and prostitutes. But a group of 20 from Essex are travelling to Amsterdam to tour its red light district at night and pay a visit to its "cannabis college", an information centre about the drug. They will also visit a sexual health clinic and a police station.

The 14- to 16-year-olds, all but one of whom attend The Helena Romanes School in Great Dunmow, are being taken on the fact-finding trip organised by Essex county council's youth service.

The aim is for them to find out how the Dutch tackle drugs, alcohol and sexual health issues. On their return, they will present their findings to the police, primary care trusts and other young people at youth centres across Essex.

Linda Barnes, the youth worker organising the trip, said: "Holland has the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, whereas in the UK we are approaching the worst.

"The same is true of drugs and alcohol. The UK's problems with binge drinking are well-publicised, but in Holland it is nowhere near as bad. The idea is to compare the two countries to see if there is anything we can learn from one another."

The teenagers have already carried out groundwork by attending talks from local police, a primary care trust, and Essex's young people's drug and alcohol service. They have also conducted a questionnaire in Dunmow to find out how well-informed people are.

In Amsterdam, window prostitution is legal in certain areas, while selling cannabis is illegal, but tolerated if it is only in small quantities.

The council has assured parents the youngsters will not be allowed to go into cafes where drugs are bought and consumed openly, but they will tour the red light district.

"We will take them along those streets so they can see how open it is over there," said Ms Barnes. "Some of them thought initially they would be having a wild time, but they will find out Holland is in some ways more restrictive."

But the well-intentioned foray has not been without its detractors.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said the trip was "unnecessary and daft".

"The problem is, can we be assured that things like this will persuade these children that things such as drugs and prostitution are not a good idea?" she said.

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