Berlin's condom dispensers battle
Berlin city authorities’ plans to place condom dispensers in the German capital’s schools have met with fierce opposition from many parents, Moslem Muslim and members of the Catholic Church. Ernest Gill reports on both sides of the argument.
Authorities insist something must be done to combat teenage pregnancy rates
Spearheaded by the leftist Greens party, high schools in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin are being outfitted with condom dispensers. Now other parts of the city are moving quickly to install the condom-vending machines in their schools.
Many parents and Muslim leaders along with the Roman Catholic Church have denounced the whole business as counterproductive to say the least, and downright pernicious at worst.
"This only promotes teenage promiscuity," warns Catholic Archdiocese of Berlin youth spokesman Stefan Foerner. "It encourages and even pressures young people to have sex. Kids see the dispensers and think that if they haven't had sex yet they really ought to do so. That is not the sort of peer pressure we want to encourage."
Parent-teacher organisations have also protested, and protests have come in from pro-life activists in America and elsewhere.
But educational authorities in Berlin insist something must be done to combat spiralling teenage pregnancy rates and the scourge of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Last year 516 Berlin schoolgirls between the ages of 15 and 18 dropped out of classes due to pregnancy, according to a report in Berliner Zeitung newspaper.
Even more shockingly, 47 girls under the age of 15 became pregnant and dropped out of school in 2002 in Berlin.
"I'm afraid the Catholic Church is getting causes and effects all mixed up," says Reinhard Naumann, who heads the youth affairs office for the Charlottenburg district of Berlin.
"Young people are going to have sex and condoms are a proven and effective way of avoiding unwanted pregnancies but also of protecting them from sexually transmitted diseases," he says.
"People wrongly think AIDS is a thing of the past, but that unfortunately is not the case," Naumann adds. "And anyway, nobody is forcing students to buy condoms. We just think it is the responsible thing to do to make them available."
That is not to say that condoms will be made available free of charge.
"These are vending machines and students will have to pay the going rate, whatever that turns out to be," Naumann says, noting that negotiations are still underway with vending machine companies as to terms for leasing the dispensers and supplying them with condoms.
"Once those details are worked out, I have no doubt that the dispensers will be installed in Charlottenburg," he says, adding that he is surprised at the protests.
While the protests continue in Charlottenburg in western Berlin, across town in the eastern district of Marzahn-Hellersdorf officials have quietly been installing condom dispensers with no fanfare and little or no protest.
In that district in former East Berlin, where Catholocism was looked upon with disdain prior to German unification, the vending machines are being made available upon request.
"If a school puts in a request for condom dispensers, we grant it," says district official Marlitt Koehnke. "But we only install them if there's an actual request."
Subject: German news