Abortions for the under-16s rise 10%

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SCHOOLGIRL ABORTIONS rose by nearly 10 per cent last year, confirming fears among family experts that sex education policies are still failing young girls. Official figures, released yesterday by the Office of National Statistics, show that the number of girls under 16 who had abortions last year was the highest recorded.

Experts said that the rise was disappointing and highlighted an urgent need for the Government to act. The figures come as the Government is set to publish its Social Exclusion Unit report on tackling teenage pregnancies within the next few weeks.

It is expected to recommend that teenage girls should be given free contraceptives, from the school nurse or a health visitor, without their parents' knowledge and to call for sex education at an earlier age. The number of abortions for 1998 was 3,748, a rate of 6 per 1,000 under-16s. The rise in abortions for all teenagers was 11 per cent, a total of 36,900. The birth rate in the under-20s also increased, by 2 per cent, to 30.7 births per 1,000 girls.

"Inequalities in life, low life expectations, a lack of sex education and the inability of young girls to say `no' are all to blame for the rise in teenage pregnancy," said Toni Belfield, of the Family Planning Association.

"The number of unplanned pregnancies has risen because many women are not confident about contraception in this country. No contraceptive is 100 per cent and the adverse publicity about the Pill and other hormonal contraceptives such as Norplant has not helped." The number of abortions in under-age girls in England and Wales rose in 1996 following the pill scare.

In 1997 the number of teenagers becoming pregnant fell and many people who worked in the field hoped that this was the start of a downward trend. But the latest figures show that the number of abortions in schoolgirls last year was higher than at any time in the last decade.

"This is disappointing and bad news for teenagers, whatever they choose to do," said Alison Hadley, national policy officer for Brook Advisory Centres, which offer free advice and contraception to under 25-year-olds. "The majority of teenage pregnancies are unplanned and can be very damaging to young girls' lives," she said.

"The Government needs to introduce sex education into the national curriculum, so that it is not pot luck whether young people get any sex education. We also need to help parents and encourage them to talk to their children. Embarrassment is one of the major blocks for most families."

t Children born to single teenage mothers are more likely to die young than those born into stable families, according to official figures.

For children whose mothers were under 20 years old, or who were not in a stable relationship, the chances of death at the ages of 1, 2 or 3 were increased.

Overall, for children born in 1993 there was an average of 45 deaths per 100,000 for one-year-olds, 29 per 100,000 for children aged two and 18 per 100,000 for those aged three.

But for babies born in the same year to mothers under 20, the rates were 60 per 100,000 for children aged one, 65 per 100,000 aged two and 29 per 100,000 aged three.