Figures reveal that more and more children are being treated for STDs in Kent – with patients as young as 10-years-old receiving treatment.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) by Unified has revealed a steady increase in the number of children being treated of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Kent.
The worrying figures show a 22% increase in children receiving treatment for diseases contracted through sexual activity in the past two years.
Sexual health experts have suggested that rate of STDs in children from Kent could point to the issue of child sexual exploitation and gang activity in the county.
The new information showed children as young as 13-years-old being treated for infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia at Kent Community sexual health clinics.
A separate FOI document revealed that in the past three years, Maidstone and Tunbridge Hospital (MTW) treated a total of 306 children from the ages of 11 to 17-year-olds. Including a child under the age of 10 receiving a treatment for a sexually transmitted infection.
The most comment STDs amongst children are chlamydia, genital warts and (simplex virus) herpes.
At present, sexual health clinics ran by Kent Community Hospitals (KCHFT) have already provided STD treatments for 272 minors. Meaning this year’s figures are predicated to surpass last year’s which stood at 279.
The troubling figures could be blamed by the rising issue of child sexual exploitation in Kent, says child sexual health practitioner Kendra Houseman.
Kendra, an ex-gang member and a victim of child sexual exploitation herself, now works with young people in Kent who are at ‘high risk’ of being sexually exploited.
She believes that the alarming rate of STDs in the children of Kent marks as footprints of gangs and county-lines operations who traffick minors as drug mules or sexually exploit young girls who gets involved with local gangs in their area.
“You only need to look at how many young girls are contracting STDs to see that child sexual exploitation in Kent is happening,” Kendra said.
“We have girls presented to us who are at risk of child sexual exploitation, who are then having sex with multiple partners. All reported to social services. With one girl, when I explained to her what consent was and what exploitation was – it was only then she started realising what was happening to her.”
The sexual health practitioner also notes the lack of sex education in schools should be taken more seriously.
Kendra added: “I asked 60 school girls and only one girl knew what consent was.
“I had boys who didn’t know that the age of consent was 13, so they were having sex with underage girls and had no idea that it was illegal.”
This year, already 191 children in Kent have received treatment for chlamydia
However, children’s charity NSPCC are not able to pin point the cause of the increasing STDs in children.
A spokesperson for NSPCC said: “It’s difficult at this point without the necessary facts, to say exactly why there has been an increase of children with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Kent.
The charity does state that local authorities are working together to stop the trafficking and exploitation of children through county lines. NSPCC have even had to extent their services to the coastal areas of Kent such as Thanet where figures have seen a vast increase of children who are flagged as at ‘high risk’ of being sexually exploited.
NSPCC added: “Young people who are criminally exploited are often trafficked and coerced into taking huge risks moving drugs and weapons for the benefit of others and need access to appropriate support to ensure their safety.
“This often depends on the development of trusting relationships with adults and requires schools, local authorities, police and youth services to work together in the best interests of the child.”
Kent County Council is not able to comment on whether gangs and county lines have contributed on the rise of STI in children, but reassures that they are working to educate young people on the importance of safe sex.
Director of Public Health and Kent County council, Andrew Scott-Clark noted that their their sexual health clinics can be used by anyone – not just Kent residents – which could have affected the statistics. However, he admits that they’ve seen an increase in older teenagers using their online sexual health services.
Andrew Scott-Clark said: “We are working closely with our partners and providers to help young people increase their understanding of STI transmission. Services across the county support teenagers in making informed decisions about their sexual health, relationships and pregnancy. This targeted approach includes education programmes, dedicated sexual health clinics for under 25s, access to all age clinics, and the use of innovative technology such as a free condom distribution scheme which gives young people improved access to sexual health information and free condoms.”
Kent Community Health Trust (KCHFT) are the main providers for sexual health services in the county. An official from trust commented that the rise in figures could be showing changing culture where more young people are taking pro-active decisions of seeking treatment rather than ignoring their sexual health problems.
Stephen Grice, Head of Sexual health services for KCHFT said: “It’s encouraging that people are increasingly coming to our clinics to receive treatment, and not sitting at home asking the internet for advice! At KCHFT we provide services for anyone who is sexually active, including those under 18.
“We offer a free, friendly and non-judgemental service to anyone worried about STIs and we would encourage anyone who is concerned about symptoms to come and see us as soon as possible. The best way to prevent contracting a sexually-transmitted infection is to use a condom, every time.”