Underage sex and the city: why Hong Kong needs to get a grip

Yonden Lhatoo looks at the reality of youngsters having sex early in life and the need for proper education unhampered by cultural taboos

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 9:18pm

A rather conservative friend complained to me recently about the number of children she sees around Hong Kong openly engaging in public displays of intimate affection.

Being a concerned young mother herself, she sent me photos she had taken of an underage couple attempting to fuse together in a trembling oneness through their school uniforms in a supermarket aisle while she was shopping for groceries.

I don’t share her puritanical streak, and we all remember what puppy love can be like, but I understand where she’s coming from, especially when their school uniforms remind us how disturbingly young they can be.

Hong Kong is quite tolerant towards young love, and this city has its share of sexual promiscuity, even with a majority Chinese population that is traditionally conservative. But when they start out so young, it can be a hydra-headed cause for concern.

The last time the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong looked into the matter, it found 7 per cent of girls and 10 per cent of boys in their teens had engaged in sexual intercourse, the average age being around 16.

When it came to having sex for the first time, the mean age was 14 for boys and 15 for girls.

More than 22 per cent did not use contraceptives, risking sexually transmitted diseases as well as unwanted pregnancy.

It’s not uncommon to hear about children as young as 11 committing sexual offences in this city. Many don’t even know they’re doing something illegal to equally young partners, classmates or friends.

Experts blame the trend on the unfettered use of social media, which escapes parental scrutiny, breaks down barriers and enables faster intimacy. Add easily accessible pornography to the mix and it becomes a real dilemma.

Does anyone remember the days when puppy love was passing handwritten notes in class? Nowadays, they’ve moved on to sharing nude pictures and explicit videos over their smartphones.

Times have changed drastically. Children are not as innocent and clueless as they used to be. They need much more on sex education than evasive lip service from embarrassed parents and the token biology diagrams at school.

Until 2012, Hong Kong law was naive enough to presume that a boy aged below 14 was incapable of sexual intercourse. The outdated legislation had to be changed to reflect reality after a 13-year-old boy who raped a five-year-old girl could only be convicted of indecent assault at the time.

Many of my friends are parents struggling to balance traditional morality concerns with open-mindedness and liberal attitudes in bringing up their children.

I can’t help noticing they seem more worried about their daughters than sons when it comes to matters of sex. As archaic and misogynistic as that line of thinking may sound in this day and age, the reality is that in Hong Kong – and the rest of the world, for that matter – a woman who sleeps around is still judged and stigmatised, while a man who does the same is excused and even admired.

John Oliver, the British comic and political commentator making waves on American television, ridicules this attitude in his excellent take on the broken sex education system in the US.

In typically irreverent, hilarious and astutely insightful fashion, he highlights gems of American wisdom such as advocating abstinence-only sex education.

I’m not recommending we follow that kind of boneheaded lead, but we need to find a balance by overcoming the cultural taboos that prevent a more open and educated approach.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post