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France

Parisian teens handed ‘contraception chequebooks’

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2011-04-27

As of Tuesday, some 160,000 Parisian adolescents can receive a “contraception chequebook” at school, which will entitle them to free contraception without having to involve their parents.

The “contraception pass”, which the local authorities describe as a “chequebook”, was launched across the Paris region Tuesday. The pass will allow students aged between 15 and 18 to access free contraception anonymously, without having to visit a family planning centre or see their family doctor.

At a school specialising in beauty and fashion in the east of Paris, where over two thirds of the students are girls, the news was warmly welcomed. “It’s great!” shouted Morgane, 18, as she was applying eye shadow to a fellow student. “It will motivate people to use contraception earlier”.
 
The programme, originally conceived by socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, has already been launched in the western Poitou-Charentes region, where she is the leader of the regional council. There, the passes are distributed by a family doctor or family planning practitioner, but in Paris, they’ll be handed out by the school nurse.
 
“In a system where young people have to go through their parents to access healthcare, the right to acquire contraception and decide on abortion autonomously is not being provided for”, a leaflet on the project explained.
 
Coupons for condoms
 
Along with the pass, the local authorities want to boost sexual health and pregnancy awareness among teenagers in the Paris region. Over 20,000 abortions are carried out each year in France – around the same number as in the late 1970s. A quarter of those take place in and around Paris and 5.7% of the women concerned are under the age of 18.
 
“I think fewer people will get pregnant if free contraception is available at school”, says Leticia, 17, a communications student. “Students form a bond with the school nurse, so they’re more comfortable asking her [for contraception], instead of going to some woman in a clinic they don’t know”.
 
The chequebooks comprise a selection of coupons: two for check-ups with a sexual health practitioner, two for a chosen type of contraception, and one for tests for sexually transmitted infections.
 
Parental guidance
 
“With this system, we’re not forced to tell our parents”, says Tina, 17. “Of course it’s better to talk to your parents about it, but for those who can’t, there’s a way around.”
 
Until now, the girls at this college have been travelling 10 kilometres to get free contraception. “We don’t always have much money, and the family planning centre is ages away”, says Morgane. "We’re always at school, so it’s far more accessible”.
 
When one of her friends, who preferred not to be named, voiced concerns that accessible contraception would make it easier to have sex, Morgane rolled her eyes. “Just because you can get contraception at school doesn’t mean you’re forced to start having sex”, she said.
 
Boys at the school were less willing to discuss the issue, refusing to “talk about that” with a journalist.
 
France's right-wing ruling party has also shied away from the issue. Just last year, Education Minister Luc Chatel tried to stifle the same project in Poitou-Charentes by banning schools (rather than doctors) from distributing the chequebooks.
 
But apparently Chatel has since made a U-turn. On Tuesday, he participated in the scheme’s launch event, and described the project as “educational for both boys and girls”.
Royal, who was applauded for her “inspiring spirit” at the launch, has expressed hope that the programme will be expanded to other regions across France.

 

Date created : 2011-04-26

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