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By Terry Joseph
May 17, 2003

During his relatively short but singularly colourful lifetime, my cousin Lancelot "Kebu" Layne insisted that verbal communication in this country had been reduced to midnight-robber speeches.

"People are forever threatening to advance doomsday," he would say, comparing ostensibly unrelated speeches by public figures to vainglorious monologues authored by the traditional Carnival characters from whom robber-talk gets its name.

But even the liberal and highly adventurous Lance would have been taken aback by the latest twist, an eruption of largely critical comment caused by the recent distribution of condoms to secondary schoolchildren.

A hitherto little-known group, Advocates for Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health, decided to hand out condoms to the kids, the initiative coming to light during such an exercise at the Woodbrook Secondary School. Officialdom described the young man involved as a publicity-seeker, some commentators even suggesting his action may have encouraged the children into sexual activity.

Interestingly, a mere two blocks away, workmen from the City Corporation were-at the same time-busy raising the height of walls around Lapeyrouse Cemetery where, according to decent persons working on the upper floors of the National Insurance building opposite; unbridled sexual activity takes place almost daily, much of it involving young persons.

Mortified as the NI employees and His Worship may well be, sex in the cemetery is nothing new. As a primary school student at Gaines Normal AME in Woodford Street and later while attending Trinity College on Melbourne Street-both within a two-block radius of Lapeyrouse-it was widely known that a fresh twist on education could be derived from merely passing through the burial ground after classes; these extra lessons sometimes taught by classmates.

I left high school 40 years ago, a time when superstition would have limited the number of people brave enough to contemplate using a grave for indecent purpose, even in cases where anxious parents unwittingly challenged lecherous males with the words: "Over my dead body."

And that was well before the shift-system disgorged hordes of young schoolgirls onto the streets at noon, throwing the more precocious to wolves dressed in taxi-driver clothing, some of whom have boasted publicly about bargain sex that, at recent audit, was going for no more than a two-piece KFC snack-box.

Startling statistics on the prevalence of HIV/Aids among young persons is, ironically, the best indicator that children of school age are not only sexually active, but moving entry-level qualification steadily downward.

There have been more than a few discoveries of primary school student transgressions, not unsurprisingly concomitant with a rise in frequency of incest, bearing in mind the more scary reality that the percentage of reported episodes pales against actual incidence.

Add to that both working parents, tired after a hard day and traffic-wearying drive home, dozing off well before cable-television unveils its veneer of daytime chastity, all-day Internet access to pornographic images, school uniforms that no longer carry a necktie to obfuscate cleavage on developing girls and, of course, post-puberty boys anxious to score.

Now look at the broader scenario, one in which agreed exemplars offer far too few validating references and the country fast becoming a place where, apparently, even the good die young anyway.

Given the environment outlined above, the brave child would be the one who avoided the lure of sexual adventure, particularly in communities where cramped living conditions betray conjugal secrets, intra-family brutality is taken for granted, bandits are village heroes and drug-abuse ranks as a coming-of-age ritual.

In the circumstances, it must be a better idea to issue condoms to schoolchildren, whether they accept them out of curiosity or for more practical applications. Indeed, in the latter case, we would be doing the future a favour, if only by reducing risk of unwanted pregnancies or worse, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

For the school and education officials to hide behind some bureaucratic defensive about the condom-distributor not having permission to do the giveaway, leaves me to wonder whether drug-pushers, who often operate near high schools, apply for approval to peddle their stock.

Stop! Stop, you mocking pretenders! The game is up. The precious little darlings arenít like they used to be. Times have changed and drastically. No high school student child is likely to be shocked by the sight of a condom, nor unduly put off by conversation about sex.

Reality is that the world has long jettisoned those values upon which you may still rely. Not that you must now vary your personal ideals but, as was the case when we all were growing up, the young view almost invariably appears reckless to older folk.

To push the point, it may be time to hold open discussions on not just condoms but sex in general, for that too has changed since the good olí days and not just in terms of mere eligibility.

But let me not scare those parents who still can confidently say "not my child", or worse, sound like a doomsday prophet. Cousin Lance might not like that. And who really knows what measure of misfortune that befell those who did it in the cemetery was directly attributable to the vengeance of disturbed spirits?

Come to think of it: isnít that the essence of robber-talk?

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