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Sexualised children taught to 'do what comes nat'relly'

Sexualised children taught to 'do what comes nat'relly'

Author:
Publication: Irish Independent
Date: February 16, 2009
URL: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/sexualised-children-taught-to-do-what-comes-natrelly-1641020.html

At the age of 13, Alfie Patten is not the youngest person in Britain to father a child: four British boys aged 11 have become fathers over the past decade.

But Alfie, who has appeared on the front page of the London tabloids holding his new-born daughter, Maisie Roxanne (along with his girlfriend Chantelle Steadman, aged 15), certainly looks the youngest. His baby face and small stature make him seem like a child himself: which, of course, he is.

Is it shocking that children are now begetting children? We know that if an adult should have any sexual exchange with a child aged 11, 12, or 13, that adult is charged, castigated, condemned and often imprisoned as a paedophile, and his -- or her -- name consigned to a sex register probably for the rest of their lives.

And yet children are having sexual relations with one another, and bringing babies into the world as a result, and the response is . . . well, actually, in this case, the response is that 'The Sun' newspaper has purchased the boy's story, and his own mother will not give her opinion of the case because she "doesn't like to interfere with my son's business interests".

Alfie's reward for unlawful carnal knowledge is a large sum of money for making himself famous.

The wider response to Alfie and Chantelle's situation reveals the moral ambivalence of our age. The sex educators say that what Alfie and his fiancée required was "more sex education": Tony Kerridge from Marie Stopes International blamed the woeful state of British sex education for the case of Alfie's baby.

Sex educators today are a little like the generals in the First World War. When 50,000 men were killed in a single day without any evident gain, the generals would say the remedy was more troops: seldom did they draw back and ask themselves -- "is this strategy actually working?" By the same token, each time the teenage -- and under-teen -- pregnancy rate rises, the sex educators prescribe "more sex education".

Teens -- and under-teens -- know plenty about sex. In many British state schools kids are taught from the age of 10 how to put on a condom (the embarrassed teacher using a banana for demonstration purposes). There are wall-to-wall warnings about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the youth magazines, as well as explicit instructions on sexual techniques.

Others -- such as Tory spokesman Iain Duncan Smith -- blame the "broken Britain" of dysfunctional family life: the cycles of absent fathers, single mothers, and generations living on benefits.

Alfie's father is working but has left home: Chantelle's parents are together but on income support, housing benefit, child tax credits and child benefits: soon, Chantelle will be eligible for benefits too, when she reaches the age of 16.

The economic pragmatists blame the problem of very young parents squarely on the benefits system. If you reward dysfunctional family patterns, you will have more of them.

Why, for example, does Italy have such a low rate of single mothers? Because very few state financial benefits are available for unmarried teenage parents. And because society has retained a bias in favour of the traditional -- and patriarchal -- family.
Alfie Patten is so vulnerable-looking and so baby-faced himself, that it would take a heart of stone to be nastily punitive towards him. Although he is not technically old enough to babysit on his own -- you have to be 14 to do so legally -- he is, apparently, looking after his baby daughter Maisie tenderly.

But it doesn't take a phalanx of politicians or social theorists to work out the motivations of why it is that children, now, are having children. The basic explanation is quite simple: "Sex is fun and babies are sweet", as the American sociologist Charles Murray observed.

Another explanation comes from that song in the 1940s musical, Annie Get Your Gun: "Doin' What Comes Nat'relly".

Sex is fun and babies are sweet: and the activity of congress and begetting is as old as life on earth itself -- and as natural. Any young animal left to its own devices will soon be "doin' what comes nat'relly".

It is only the protocols of society that have imposed constraints upon copulation and begetting: society, or civilisation, has imposed those restraints because of an awareness of consequences which are of little relevance to a primate in the wild.

Human children are not chimpanzees in the wild: they have to be raised, formed, educated and socialised. Human beings have a sensitive emotional life, too, as well as a physical one: they can be hurt and damaged by too-early sexual experiences.

When methods of contraception became widely available, it was supposed -- naively -- that the rational world had trumped the animal world and that the problems of unrestrained sex could be addressed through better and wider birth control.

Methods of fertility control may be effective for reflective people who know how to plan ahead, but for a wide swathe of the young, the immature or the couldn't-be-bothered, heedlessly "doin' what comes nat'relly" prevails.

Add in a highly sexualised media culture, in which sex is sold and promoted at every opportunity (there are now over 300 million internet sites for pornography) -- then, why wouldn't a 13-year-old respond to the impulses both of nature and of commerce?

The great hedonistic cry of the 1960s and 1970s sexual liberation movement was: "If it feels good -- do it!" What they forgot to add was the less catchy sequel: "And take the consequences!" Alfie and Chantelle are the consequences.

- mkenny@independent.ie


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