A new children’s character, Charlie Condom, has been created by health chiefs in Southampton to promote condoms to 13-year-olds.
Education leaders have slammed the move and others call it “ridiculous”.
The character is promoting a scheme, designed to cut the number of teenage pregnancies, which will allow youngsters to collect the contraceptives using a condom credit-card from 18 venues in the city.
Monsignor Vincent Harvey, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the city, cautioned: “This campaign is sending out the message to 13-year-old children that this is the norm, that it is OK to be sexually active.”
And Ron Clooney, from the teachers union NASUWT, criticised the scheme, saying: “This method, where underage impressionable teenagers can get condoms so openly, condones the idea of under-age sex.
“Having a giant condom launching this is ridiculous. This needs to be treated as a serious subject. No amount of silly characters with condoms on their heads are going to cure the issue.”
However, local health chiefs have defended the strategy.
Dr Ros Tolcher, Chief Officer for Solent Healthcare, said: “This scheme does not promote sex under the legal age of consent but helps to ensure that the small minority of young people who are sexually active protect themselves and others.”
Under the scheme plastic cards will be given to youngsters aged between 13 and 24 who attend brief safe-sex “risk assessment” sessions.
The controversial cards will allow the youngsters to collect unlimited batches of ten condoms for a period of six months.
Last month it was revealed that children as young as eight had been offered free condoms by youth workers near a park play area.
The condoms were distributed by workers from Cornerhouse, a Hull-based sexual health charity, which was largely funded by public money.
But local mum Samantha Fuller was outraged after she discovered that her 13-year-old daughter was given the condoms, and that her 8-year-old nephew was also offered them.
Earlier this year it was revealed that a £280 million Government plan to slash the number of teenage pregnancies was set to be a spectacular failure.
Although the rate had dipped, it was falling woefully short of the Government’s stated target, and critics labeled the Government’s plan a “disaster”.
In response, ministers promised to ‘refresh’ their policies, but many saw it as ploughing ahead with the same failed strategies.