On the other hand the values of innocence are strongly upheld in some Mediterranean or Middle East societies. These societies impose strict restrictions on the sexual behaviour of girls. Adolescents are traditionally taught to keep away from the opposite sex for fear of uncalled-for desires (Islam Online, 2004). This actually reflects the way in which a child’s innocence is protected in such societies. Although a child’s innocence is much valued, there exists an Islamic belief to begin sex education in the home with the child’s parents before the school system does. However, sex education communicated to children must be age-appropriate (Islam Online, 2004).
With regards to age-appropriate sex education, there is in fact little consensus on what children are able to understand and cope with at a particular age. As such, laws prohibiting sexual activity below a defined legal age vary between countries. For example, the legal age of consent in the UK is sixteen while that of Holland and China is twelve and twenty respectively (Kehily and Montgomery, 2003). These differences in the ages of consent also reflect how societies have their own ways of defining children’s innocence. This in spite of the fact that children might be sexually aware and physically mature before the legal age of consent The term ‘innocence’ is socially constructed and hence children who are overprotected by one society may be deemed as ignorant by other societies in relation to sexuality.
How societies regulate children’s sexual activities and seek to protect them from abuses depend on how they interpret children’s innocence. In most societies, sexual innocence is conveniently seen as part of childhood. Most parents avoid the topic of sexuality with their children. Children’s sexual behaviors are controlled through laws. There are laws prohibiting sexual activity before a certain age while other laws impose restrictions on the media to prevent the premature exposure of children to sex. Films and advertisements with provocative sexual content are subject to censorship. Internet engines have also been designed to block texts or images with sexual content unsuitable for children.
At the same time, while parents wish that their children remain as innocent as they are expected to be, their children also desire to satisfy their own curiosity about the unspeakable domain of sex. Associating childhood innocence with expectations of sexual ignorance is impossible, as the body structure is innately sexual, marked by puberty. It is impossible for children, especially for those who have reached puberty to be oblivious to the sexual development occurring within them.
Adults are found consciously withholding information and knowledge about sexuality from their children as they find their children innocent. In other cases, parents or schools find it difficult to mention the subject of sexuality. In such circumstances, when the parents perceived their children as innocent, children may look for alternative sources from the internet, magazines or even friends for information.
The media, especially magazines for teenagers, are an increasingly important source of information and have a significant bearing on children’s attitudes (Report on Sex and Relationship Education in Schools, 2002). The wide range of beliefs and attitudes in relation to sexuality proposed by the media may be confusing. For example, some media coverage promotes the idea that being sexually active makes a person more attractive and mature. Through these avenues, children may or may not get reliable and accurate information. Without correct information, these children may put themselves at greater risk namely, the risk of sexual abuse, unsafe sex, and unwanted pregnancy through sexual experimentation.
It was reported that The United Kingdom has the highest teenage birth rate in Western Europe Teenage Pregnancy records that each year, in England, 90,000 teenage girls conceive. Of these, around 7,700 are under 16 and 2,200 are aged 14 or under. At the same time, 38% of teenage pregnancies ended in abortion in 1998 (Report on Sex and Relationship Education in Schools, 2002). This alarmingly high figure further suggests the high number of sexual experimentations.
Teenagers who are sexually active may be ignorant of the consequences of sex without contraception or have simply undermined the values behind a sexual act. Ignorance of these matters put these children through unnecessary stress. Motherhood in teenagers actually limits their life chances. Most teenagers who become mothers drop out of school. Early pregnancy is hard on young bodies and maternal mortality is higher during adolescence than after 20 years of age (New Internationalist). Experiences of abortion may even put them to grief with a lasting feeling of guilt and isolation.