Suicide alarm prompts health check programme

28th March 2003 at 00:00
FRANCE

Schools minister Xavier Darcos has announced measures to reduce the alarming number of child suicides.

Mr Darcos is also concerned about the growing number of schoolchildren suffering ill-health and psychological problems such as anorexia. But it is the suicide rate that is most worrying. More than 200 youngsters between the ages of 10 and 19 commit suicide in France each year, nearly 9 per cent of boys aged 11 to 15 in coll ge consult the school nurse because of suicidal tendencies and 19 per cent of girls have already tried to end their lives.

The minister called for more attention to be paid to "the malaise of some of our youths." He also noted that 80 per cent of under-19s had tried at least one drug.

The government wants earlier identification of physical and psychological problems. The first compulsory check-up will be brought forward by a year to the end of nursery school, and two other medicals will follow, at the end of primary school and at the end of coll ge or lower secondary school.

Other measures include more general health education, mineral water fountains in schools in place of vending machines for fizzy drinks and fatty foods, and strict enforcement of a 1992 law banning smoking in public places. Offenders will be punished on the spot and nicotine substitutes will be supplied on demand.

Canteen food will be improved, three sex education lessons a year will be given throughout primary and secondary school, instead of just the second and third years of coll ge. By 2007, first-aid training will be available to all coll ge pupils.

No new posts will be created for nurses or doctors to carry out the check-ups, but medical interns will be able to work in schools and earn credits towards their degrees. About 600 interns a year will be involved, starting in September 2004.

Analysis, 22

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