If you can't be good, be careful

15th April 2005 at 01:00
Lateral thinking is not only amazing, it is also extremely hard work, because those who don't want to think laterally find it hard to accept the thinking of those who do.

I live in a region notorious for high rates of drug-taking, pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases. It would seem sensible, therefore, to make sure that the Government scheme to give free condoms to young people works.

Needless to say, the obvious place to offer free condoms - the school - was at once rejected. There seemed to be two reasons. First, they might be used as water bombs, which of course is the end of the world. Second, young people might get them and use them, which might mean the end of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and cut down the STD incidence.

The local clinic used to have a machine, which was in the toilet, and issued three condoms for 10p. It was good lateral thinking - most teenagers can find 10p, and it was private. There must have been a run of water bombs, because these machines are permanently empty. Ask at reception, and the receptionist walks across the hall in full view of the interested and damning queue, and hands you a fistful of individual condoms in a vivid green bag.

Go to the next village and they pass you two packets of three condoms. Ask for more and the answer is: "Sorry, they are locked up and we don't know where they are and the lady with the key is away until Tuesday."

I tried that clinic twice, and both times that was the answer. Now I am not a teenager, and am not easily embarrassed by such things. But I bet the vast majority of young folk are. If we really want to make life better for young people, we make birth control easily available. Why not have condoms in the school? At least it would give the kids a purpose when they ask out to the loo. And more to the point, school nurses have an uncanny knack of noticing when their charges want or need advice.

Why not give them away in chemists, at supermarket checkouts or in the clinic for the picking up, not the asking?

Of course, along with that goes some intensive social education about self-esteem, the right to say no, their own worth and integrity. And that is work not just done by guidance staff, but by all staff. We need to draw youngsters' attention to their own responsibility for planning out their lives.

If, at the same time, the Government invests in decent apprenticeships for all trades, we might find pupils with more of a future than single parenthood and unemployment. Their self-esteem would come from their place in society - and the condoms might not be needed as much as they are now.

Until then, let's make it easy for our kids to protect themselves.

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