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Wed, Feb 11, 2009
The Straits Times
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Sharp rise in girls under 16 having sex
by Carolyn Quek & Kimberly Spykerman

NEVER mind that they know little about the birds and the bees, teenage girls here are still going ahead with the deed - and in larger numbers as well.

The latest police figures show that 310 girls below the age of 16 were caught engaging in underage consensual sex last year - nearly 45per cent more than the year before.

Put against the number from five years ago - 163 - the jump is even starker.

Most of the time, their parents or teachers report them to the police; police officers on patrol have also caught them in the act.

The police say that most of the time, these girls are with men known to them, usually their boyfriends or friends.

In most cases, these boys are also teenagers, though they are sometimes in their 20s or even 30s.

In the eyes of the law, girls aged between 12 and 14 are considered victims of statutory rape. Cases involving girls below the age of 12 are investigated as rape.

Offenders can be jailed for up to 20 years, and fined or caned.

Under the Women's Charter, sex with a girl aged above 14 but below 16 is termed 'carnal connection'.

If found guilty, offenders can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $10,000 for this crime.

While females are the majority of victims in underage sex cases here, the law has been amended to protect males as well.

Last October, a 32-year-old former teacher became the first woman here to be charged with having sex with a minor, a 15-year-old boy.

Not only are the rising numbers worrying, youth counsellors say it also appears that teenagers are being initiated into sex earlier.

A jump in the number of statutory rape cases - from nine in 2003 to 63 last year - hints at this.

Youth counsellors are also seeing more cases of young teens at 'sexual or moral risk': Of 721 children screened by counsellors after their parents had sought beyond parental control orders last year, nearly a quarter, or 171, were found to have already experienced sex in one form or another.

And these are only the cases that have come to the attention of the authorities, said counsellors.

The rising statistics indicate that teenagers here are less conservative than their predecessors, they added.

In the past, drugs and cigarettes were the stuff of youthful experimentation, but today, it is sex.

As clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet put it: 'Sex is the new cigarette.'

And while girls are typically cast as 'victims' under the law, not all of them are as innocent as they seem.

Counsellors have reported an increasing proportion of girls who are sexually aggressive initiators of sex.

Dr Balhetchet said a 15-year-old girl wrote to her about two years ago wanting to know how she could ask her boyfriend to have sex with her because all her friends were already doing it with their boyfriends.

Mrs Chong Cheh Hoon, senior vice-president of Focus on the Family Singapore, a local group dedicated to the strengthening of Singapore families, said popular culture in the form of hit television programmes such as Gossip Girl are also giving young people a template on dating and casual sex.

She said: 'Kids today thrive on popular culture and fashion fads, and if something looks cool and gets them the popular vote, they will gravitate to that source in order to get that attention.'

It is this race to be 'with it' that 'blurs the line between right and wrong'.

A 16-year-old who first had sex when she was 15 told The Straits Times that nearly all her friends were doing it, with most of them having started at 14 or 15, like herself.

She said she views sex as 'personal' and only for two people who love each other, but her friends have told her that 'once they lose their virginity, sex doesn't really mean much to them anymore'.

A survey carried out last year by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) among 500 girls under 16 indicated that a majority of these girls were seeking emotional fulfilment rather than a physical connection; some felt compelled to give in to the demands of their partners to prove their love.

The survey revealed that the two main reasons for having sex were a desire for a closer connection with their boyfriend and being pressured by their boyfriend into giving themselves.

'Girls who want emotional support might feel trapped because they feel sex is the only way they can keep the boy,' said Mr Yusof Ismail, chief executive of the Ain Society, which deals with troubled youth.

Teens may be unaware of the consequences - unwanted babies or disease - or are turning a blind eye to them.

A study on young people's awareness and usage of contraception commissioned last July by drug company Bayer Schering Pharma found that about three in 10 of the 240 respondents had had sex, but only 54per cent had used contraceptives.

One in six believed that urinating or exercising after sex would prevent pregnancy.

Mr Noel Tan, who co-founded Sanctuary House, an organisation which helps mothers who cannot or may not want to keep their babies, said: 'Most kids - and even adults - have no clue what it takes to have a baby.

'A lot of the time, pregnancies happen because these kids don't know how to say no. How do they know the difference between love and infatuation?'

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 9, 2009.

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