Doctors blame poor sex education and increased child abuse for rise in teen STDs

While there are policies and awareness campaigns to prevent venereal infections among adults, the medical fraternity is concerned over the rise in Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) in children.

The central government-run Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC) alone has registered a steady increase in STD cases among children over the past four years.

Doctors attribute the rise to increased child abuse and absence of sexual health programmes in school curriculum.

Doctors Vibhu Mendiratta, Soumya Agarwal and Ram Chander of the hospital’s dermatology department studied patients under 19 years of age attending the sexually transmitted infections (STI) department.

It was noted that the STD cases had jumped from one to 4.9 per cent over the past four years, with the diseases ranging from Viral and Bacterial STIs, HIV, molluscum contagiosum, Cyanea acuminate, and herpes genitalis, to secondary syphilis.

Doctors said that voluntary sexual activity and sexual abuse represent the main modes of transmission in children nearing puberty.

The findings took into account at least 1,140 cases. Two of the children had partners with high-risk behaviour in the form of multiple sexual partners.

Seventy-five per cent of patients had used barrier contraceptives during their last sexual intercourse, while the rest had a history of unprotected intercourse.

Three boys had indulged in sexual activity with commercial sex workers, whereas one girl was pushed into prostitution at an early age.

The doctors said: “Five of the 15 males (33.3 per cent) gave a positive history of homosexuality.”

They added: “Addiction was prevalent in seven boys – three smokers, three alcoholics and a tobacco chewer. Three females and one male had a history of sexual abuse – two by strangers, one by a neighbour and the other by friends.”

The study highlighted that girls are affected more than boys. The pattern was attributed to rising sexual abuse, child prostitution, human trafficking and premature unprotected sex.

“The rising trend of STD in pediatric age group is worrisome because of the psychosocial and physical morbidity they cause. Children with STDs should be screened for child sexual abuse or the circumstances that caused the infection,” the doctors said.

They added: “School health programmes aiming at safe sexual practices should be strengthened. Each child should get comprehensive sex education. High-risk groups like street children and kids at work need health education with behaviour therapy and regular screening.”

The last two decades have shown a rise in STIs suffered by children. Studies from Rohtak (North India) and Ahmedabad (Western India) showed a prevalence of 1.02 and 1.98 per cent in pediatric STDs during 2002-2005.

The WHO estimates that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other sexual violence.