Our young people are having sexual intercourse, many out of wedlock and school, and at an age very close to the legal age of consent. If that’s news to you, and even if it isn’t, the National AIDS Commission, assisted by the Statistical Institute of Belize, has the statistics to prove it. Their 2014 survey on Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices of Sexual Behavior and HIV in Belize among youths aged 15-24 was released on Wednesday in Belize City. With a summary here is demographer with the SIB, Jacqueline Small.
Jacqueline Smalls,: Well, I think one of the first things we need to recognize is that young people, especially the ones under 20, are having sex. We also recognize that there are a significant number of young people who are starting to have sex before the age of 15. So, as it relates to those persons and Reproductive Health Services being made available to them, we recognize immediately that there is an issue because there is a conflict with what the law allows and what is actually happening in reality. So, that is something for us to consider because we are seeing that just about one tenth of the persons under 15, one tenth of the persons who are sexually active reported that they actually started before they got to 15 years old. So it is a significant number. Something that we need to think about. Another thing that we are seeing as well is that, yes, there is more work to be done, but I think it is encouraging that our young people are using a condom at the first sexual encounter, which means that they are listening and they are learning and there has been some behaviour change.
The sexual epidemic cuts across ethnic groups, with about seven in ten Garifuna and Creole youths each reporting intercourse between the ages of 15 and 24; the lowest occurrence is among the Maya at 44.8% and the national average is 61%. Those with less education are generally reported to have had their first sexual encounter at an earlier age, but generally the average age of first intercourse is 16 – boys shortly after and girls waiting just a little longer. The range of ages of first encounter by district is 16.15 in Stann Creek to 16.66 in Orange Walk. And while the abstinence figures are getting lower, about three in every five youths are using condoms, while about half are using condoms with multiple partners. The incidence of HIV/AIDS is stable though there are still upwards of 200 cases reported annually. Executive Director of the AIDS Commission Gustavo Perera outlines the significance of the study.
Gustavo Perrera: This fact study as we call it, Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Survey is a very important study for us here in Belize and at the National Aids Commission because it’s very instrumental for us in terms of reporting our key indicators to the Global Aids Reporting mechanism which consolidates all indicators globally to create a global report. But here at the national level it is important for us because it gives us an opportunity to track the progress that is being made in the HIV response as it relates to key indicators. In this case, we are talking about sexual behaviour and also knowledge, attitudes, and practices.