Contraceptive implant: 609 NI under 16s treated
An 11-year-old is among more than 600 girls under the age of 16 in Northern Ireland given contraceptive implants in the last five years.
Rods inserted into the arm release hormones to stop egg production and prevent pregnancy.
While the age of consent is 16, parental consent for the treatment is not legally needed as long as young people are capable of understanding it.
Health trusts provided the figures to BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.
Overall, 609 under-16s received implants in the past five years, although one trust could only provide figures for last year:
- In the Western Trust, 237 girls were treated (177 were aged 15; 48 were aged 14; 11 were aged 13 and one was aged 11)
- Joint figures covering the Belfast and South Eastern trusts show 207 girls under 16 received the treatment (they say their data only additionally records under 14s, of which there were six 13-year-olds who were referred to follow-up sexual and reproductive health meetings)
- In the Northern Trust, 150 under-16s were treated (the breakdown of girls' ages was only available from 2012 - since then, 30 girls were aged 15; 21 were 14-years-old; and one was aged 13)
- The Southern Trust could only provide figures for the past year: in total, 15 under 16s received the treatment (10 were aged 15; three were aged 14; and two were 13)
It is not clear what the personal circumstances are of the individual girls who were seeking treatment.
The Western Trust, where the 11-year-old received the treatment, said in a statement that unlike other trusts in Northern Ireland, it has a number of specialist nurses trained in the insertion and removal of implants.
"All methods of contraceptive are discussed with the patient and their doctor when attending a clinic," it said.
"The implant is frequently the method of choice of young people and is one of the most reliable and one of the safest methods of contraceptive, with no serious medical side effects unlike the combined contraceptive pill."
It added: "Any young person with safeguarding issues attending the clinics will have a general and sexual history taken and risk assessment completed.
"If the young person is not accompanied by a parent, guardian or social worker they will be encouraged to involve parents.
"If the service has any safeguarding concerns about a young person attending the clinic, an appropriate referral is made to child protection services, as per trust policy."
'Talk to an adult'
The Southern Trust said its staff comply with guidelines "in relation to assessment (physical, psychological and social), information around health sexual health choices, information about methods of contraception and capacity to consent to sexual intercourse and medical treatment".
The Northern Trust said young people who visit clinics by themselves or with a friend are "always encouraged to talk to a parent or other significant adult about their visit.
"Every young person is always asked questions about the age of their partner and whether or not the sexual relationship is consensual," it said.
"All young people are advised of the law regarding the age of consent for sexual activity in Northern Ireland."
It said if child protection concerns are identified, a referral is made to social services.
There are no separate figures for the South Eastern Trust, as its sexual and reproductive health services are managed by the Belfast Trust.
In a statement, the Belfast Trust said the contraceptive implant is strongly supported by experts and "has been used as a last resort depending on the particular issues facing each girl", such as menstrual blood loss or alcohol or drug abuse.