Sexuality and U


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Sex Laws and Youth

How old does my child have to be to make their own decisions about medical treatment?

In Canada, the age of consent for medical treatment can differ across provinces and territories. It can also differ based on the nature of treatment and the place where treatment is offered. For example, in both Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island individuals must be at least 18 years of age or married to consent to treatment in a public hospital.  However, there is no legislated age for having a procedure such as an abortion in a clinic rather than a hospital. In provinces that haven’t legislated an age of consent, the concept of the mature minor applies. This means that a person can choose to have medical treatment, regardless of their age, if he or she is able to understand the information about the treatment, including possible risks and consequences. Your permission is not required if your health practitioner believes your child understands the information provided. You can contact your local public health department or sexual health clinic for information on age of consent in your province or territory.

If my child sees a doctor will I know?

The age when your child can see a doctor without your consent can vary across provinces and territories. If your province or territory does not specify the age, your child is allowed to make their own decisions if they are considered to be mature enough. This means that a doctor must be confident that they fully understand any information given to them. The information they share with the doctor will be kept confidential except in certain instances. For example, if the doctor has reason to suspect your teen is being abused, or that he or she might harm themselves or others, this information can be shared with others. If these conditions don’t apply, and the doctor wants to send your child’s personal information to someone else, the individual should be asked to sign a consent form that clearly states what information is being shared and with whom. They do not have to consent if they don’t want their information shared.

Can my daughter get emergency contraception from a pharmacist even if she is under 18?

In Canada, the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) is available without a prescription from licensed pharmacists. Pharmacists are required to tell your daughter about the drug, how it works and possible side effects. A pharmacist can refuse to give your teen the drug only if they think she doesn’t understand the information given. Pharmacists are also bound by law to report cases of suspected sexual abuse for those under the age of 18. Some pharmacists may have religious or moral objections to the use of ECP. Any record of your daughter’s use of ECP is confidential and should not be made available to anyone else without her signed consent.

Will they ask for ID if my child wants to buy condoms in a drugstore?

Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, your child won’t have to prove they are a certain age to buy condoms. Sexual health products such as condoms, spermicides, lubricants or contraceptive sponges do not require a prescription and can be purchased by anyone regardless of age.

What are the rights and responsibilities of a father who is under the age of 18?

When a man fathers a child at any age he is financially responsible for that child until the child turns 19. If a man is legally acknowledged to be the father of a child then he has parental rights for custody and access to the child. When a child’s birth is registered the name of the father must be recorded for paternity to be recognized. If a woman does not give the name of the father when the birth is registered, and a man wants to be acknowledged as the father, then there are other ways of establishing paternity. The biological father can make a formal application to the courts to be recognized as the father of a child. It might be necessary to use genetic testing to prove who the father of a child is. If a man denies he is the father of a child, the mother can ask the courts to recognize him as the father. Once paternity of a child is established, then the rights of the child to financial support must be met, and the rights of the father to have access to his child must also be considered.

What is the age of consent for sexual activity?

The age of consent refers to the age at which a people are able to make their own decisions about sexual activity. In Canada, the age of consent was recently raised from 14 to 16, with some exceptions that still stand. Unmarried persons under the age of 18 cannot consent to anal sex. Someone under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to have sex with a person in a position of authority such as a teacher, health care provider, coach, lawyer or family member. As well, 12 and 13 year-olds can consent to have sex with other youth who are not more than 2 years older than themselves. There is also a provision called the 5 year peer group provision, which means that youth aged 14 or 15 will be able to consent to sex with partners who are no more than 5 years older than themselves. Many worry that raising the age of consent deters youth from asking for sexual health information and treatment. Advocates of sexual rights for youth argue that criminalizing sexuality is not an effective way to deal with issues of abuse and exploitation, and that raising the age of consent only forces youth to neglect their sexual health for fear of legal consequences.e youth to neglect their sexual health for fear of legal consequences.

Is the age of consent different for anal sex?

The Criminal Code of Canada states that persons under the age of 18 cannot engage in anal intercourse except if they are legally married. For those over the age of 18, anal intercourse is legal only when it is practiced in private between 2 consenting adults. This section of the Criminal Code has been declared unconstitutional by federal courts of appeal, as well as by courts of appeal in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. The courts in this case ruled that a higher age of consent for anal sex, than for vaginal sex, discriminated against gay men and violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. As long as the Criminal Code remains unchanged, the possibility that people could be charged with this offence still exists. Therefore, gay rights activists are lobbying to have a uniform age of consent for both anal and vaginal sex.

What types of material are considered to be child pornography?

The Canadian Criminal Code defines child pornography as pictures, films, videos or other visual representations that show persons under the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit activities. These images can also be considered pornographic if they show the sexual organs or the anal region of a person under 18 for expressly sexual purposes. Child pornography can also include written or audio material that describes or records sexual activity with a person under the age of 18. It is an offence to possess, create, advertise or distribute any material that meets this definition of child pornography. It is also illegal to counsel or encourage illegal sexual activity with someone under the age of 18.  Illegal sexual activity could include anal sex, sex with a person of authority, or sex for the purposes of prostitution.

The interpretation of this definition of child pornography is not always clear cut. For example, it is legal for youth 16 and over to engage in sex but it is illegal for them to send pictures of themselves in sexual situations over the internet. However, pictures of nude children that have no sexual intent, such as pictures a parent might take of a child in the bath, are not considered pornographic. The definition of sexually explicit is not clearly stated in legislation and is open to interpretation. Photographs or images that some would define as artistic could be labeled as sexually explicit by others.

The concept of advocating illegal sexual activity can also cause confusion in certain situations. Some might argue that educational materials that counsel gay youth on safe sex practices are actually forms of child pornography, since they advise youth under 18 on ways to safely practice anal sex. Sexual health material that describes sexual practices, and is aimed at youth under 18, could be interpreted as pornographic by some. These are examples of extreme interpretations of the concept of child pornography but they highlight some concerns that sexual rights advocates have with how the legislation could be applied.

Can my child get tested for HIV/AIDS without giving their name?

If your child wants to get tested for HIV/AIDS, and doesn’t want to give his or her name, they can choose anonymous testing. He or she will be given a unique code to identify the results, and may be asked information about age, gender or ethnicity, but this is for general statistical purposes and is not connected with the individual. The test results are not recorded on your child’s personal health record, and only your he or she can decide if the information will be given to a health care professional. Anonymous testing is usually offered at clinics and by some health care providers. All provinces have HIV/AIDS testing sites but at the present only 8 provinces offer anonymous testing. Each province and territory has a HIV/AIDS hotline that you can call to locate HIV testing sites near you.

If the test result is positive, your child’s sexual partners need to know that they might have been exposed to the virus. They can do it themselves, or contact a public health nurse with information, and the sexual partners will be contacted and advised to be tested for HIV/AIDS, but your child’s name will not be mentioned.

Do all young people have the right to health information and services?

In 1989, Canada, along with 191 other nations, signed the UN Convention of the Rights on the Child. This international treaty states that all persons under the age of 18 are entitled to adequate health care and education, the right to be protected from abuse and neglect, and the right to participate in decisions that affect them. The UN Convention clearly states that children are entitled to appropriate health education, support and services. This means that it is your child’s right to have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. As well, it is their individual right to have a say in any treatment decisions. While the UN Convention of the Rights on the Child is an international agreement, it is up to the individual countries to ensure that their laws support the rights outlined in the document. In Canada, the federal government has defined basic principles of universal health care in the Canada Health Act. The Act states that all Canadians must have reasonable access to insured, medically necessary health care services. Health care is a provincial responsibility, but each province must follow the principles of the Canada Health Act. Both the Canada Health Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child underline the rights of young people to adequate health information and services so that they can lead safe and healthy lives.