Parents told to keep tabs as child sex on rise

20:17, May 21 2013
Pregnancy Help, Dianne Acker
SUPPORT: Invercargill Pregnancy Help president Dianne Acker says the agency has helped girls as young as 14.

A youth worker says children as young as 11 are having sex in Invercargill, which has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in New Zealand.

She wanted to get the message out that children in the city were having sex and many parents did not know it was happening.

"I want to stimulate conversation in the community and get people asking, what is happening to my children, where are they?"

Southland Boys' High School rector Ian Baldwin said he had been made aware of "at risk" boys in the city who could not connect with family, so had developed relationships with girls as young as 10 to 12 years old.

He knew of vulnerable boys at the school who were seeking solace and comfort in "love" from young girls, which he believed stemmed from a lack of relationships at home.

The illegal aspect of teenage sexual relationships did not impact on some boys, whom he believed carried on having sex regardless.

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He believed sex among teenagers was becoming increasingly common.

As children became sexualised earlier in life through television and social media, they made the physical connection, he said.

His message to Southland parents was to know where their children were day and night.

"Be sure they are supervised because the opportunities are many and varied," he said.

Family Works young person teen parent intensive case worker Lorna Allott said Invercargill had one of the largest teenage pregnancy rates per capita in the country.

Her role - to assist young girls who were still developing themselves - was created because there was a need for such help in Invercargill, she said.

The unplanned pregnancies were the result of teenage brains still developing and not understanding the consequences associated with sex.

Invercargill Pregnancy Help Inc president Dianne Acker said the agency helped women of all ages but many young teens had sought help, the youngest a 14-year-old.

She was concerned some of the young girls did not have support or basic life skills. She also referred cases of young girls to other agencies.

The organisation had been operating for more than 30 years and volunteers were seeing more young girls, and many without support, she said.

Number 10 manager Jocelyn Johnstone said there were a lot of sexually active teenagers, many of whom were vulnerable without a good support base.

Young people entered into sexual relationships without knowing what they were getting into.

She was concerned about the pressures of drugs and the heavy drinking culture on teenagers that prevented them from making informed choices about sex.

Sexually transmitted infections were prevalent in Southland among very young people, she said.

Ms Johnstone, who is also a sexual abuse counsellor, said there was a grey area between when it was abuse and when sex was consensual.

The dilemma was knowing what capacity a young person had when making a decision, she said.

Detective Sergeant John Kean, of Invercargill Child Protection, said several cases of underage sex were reported each year in the city.

The law protected people under the age of 16 from older people and the penalties were high.

The typical circumstances reported to police were 17-year-old boys having sex with 14-year-old girls, he said.

Last week Invercargill Judge Kevin Phillips warned young men over 16 if they had sex with girls under 16 they might face prison sentences.

The Southland Times