Professor John Guillebaud, medical director of the Margaret Pyke Centre in London and an expert adviser to the Family Planning Association, said a highly effective hormonal implant that has just received its European licence was "ideal" for young girls who are more likely than older women to forget to take the Pill or use a condom.
But his proposal was attacked by anti-abortion and conservative family organisations, who accused him of recommending "chemical castration". It also caused consternation within the family planning movement.
The storm centres on a Dutch-made device called Implanon, a rod of hormones 5cm long, that is inserted under the skin of the arm and lasts for three years. It was granted a European licence last December and is expected to be ratified by the Medicines Control Agency at the end of the month.
Professor Guillebaud, who set out his vision of the future of contraception at a conference in London 10 days ago, said: "In the future, and as a social policy, when you have an area with a huge rate of teenage pregnancies you could go into a school, obviously with the consent of the parents, and fit this device so that everybody would start out not being able to have a baby. It could be fitted into girls once they have had their periods but before they have had sex."
Professor Guillebaud said yesterday his remarks had been misinterpreted to suggest he was recommending girls of 10 be fitted with contraceptive devices today when he was speculating about what might happen in a decade or more.
"As of now, Implanon might be used for young girls who are already sexually active and who have difficulty remembering to take the contraceptive pill," he said. "But I was looking ahead to some future society where, given the technology to switch fertility on and off without side-effects, we might choose to put the whole of society on it. I don't think society is ready for it yet and the implication that girls could now go and have sex at age 10 was not my message at all."
Valerie Riches, of Family Youth Concern, said yesterday: "I think the whole idea is repugnant. It will give youngsters the go-ahead to engage in sexual intercourse at an even earlier age." The family campaigner Victoria Gillick said: "This amounts to the spaying of young children. It is outrageous. It is the wholesale sterilisation of young children. It is chemical castration. It is repugnant."Reuse content