Dispute over condoms at Sudbury Christmas tree festival

A dispute over whether it was right or wrong to place a box of condoms underneath a Christmas tree as part of a festival whose visitors include young children has caused a stir.

The Christmas Tree festival at St Peters in Sudbury has been held for many years and helps to generate money for charity while also allowing organisations to publicise their work.

This year a tree supported by the Fight Back Trust - a voluntary organisation which provides help and advice for people with HIV or AIDS - is part of the festival.

Volunteers, who have been helped by the group and put up the tree, were angered to find the box offering free condoms had been removed when they returned to the festival to replenish the leaflets and condoms.

One of the volunteers, who did not want to be named, said he was furious at what had happened.

"The Christmas tree is obviously based on HIV/AIDS and safe sex, and so surely parents of 'two year olds' should be there to stop their children taking the packages.

"And even if the children took them, the packages are sealed black envelopes with red ribbon images on the front and the NHS symbol.

"The children would not even know what they are, or probaly be able to open them. We did find that over half the safe sex packs had been taken by the public, before the box had been removed.

"What kind of community is this that we live in that thinks that condoms which may save people's life and prevent the spread of not only HIV/AIDS but many other diseases, and prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies, of which Britain has the highest percentage, are wrong and dirty?"

The condoms in the box have now been replaced with ribbons.

Roger Green, of Friends of St Peter's, said: "The box of condoms, labelled 'please take one', was removed prior to the Christmas Tree Festival being visited by a large number of primary school and pre school children, because we felt the box of condoms at child's height on the floor may have presented itself as attractive to young children aged three and upward' and we didn't want to cause any embarrasment to parents or teachers.

"The decision to remove the box had to be taken quickly and the intent was to return it later in the day when school parties or children coming in with their parents would not be expected.

"At present, the people from the Fightback Trust have taken away the box of condoms.

"We as the Friends of St Peter's support their aims and objectives and we would not in any way wish to have caused them any hurt or offence and would unreservedly apologise for having done so."

One visitor to the Festival, Valerie goodchild of Sudbury, said: "The organisers, were absolutely right to remove the box of condoms displayed beneath their tree.

"They had been placed on the floor with a sign inviting people to "help yourself". A similar message was placed elsewhere in the church by other exhibitors offering sweets.

Young children, who attend the festival in their hundreds, either with schools, nursery groups or parents, would not be able to distinguish between a brightly wrapped condom and a sweet.

It is entirely inappropriate to have sexual aids displayed at a level where young children, below the age of sexuality, have open access to them."

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