Blair advisers back implants for schoolgirls

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR'S advisers believe contraceptive implants could be used for young girls as part of a drive to reduce teenage pregnancies.

Members of Downing Street's social exclusion unit are seeking research from the United States about the effectiveness of the implants - rods inserted into the arm that slowly release oestrogen over three years - widely used in America, particularly for young girls in poor inner-city areas.

Last week, Professor John Guillebaud, a leading family planner, caused outrage by suggesting that girls as young as 12 could be fitted with long- term contraceptive implants. The rods were a "fabulous" form of birth control which, with their parents' consent, could be used by girls deemed "at risk", at the same time as a German measles inoculation.

There is no suggestion that the Government would force girls to have the implants, but social exclusion unit members believe they could be useful for girls who have difficulty using other forms of contraception.

One form of contraceptive implant, Norplant, is already available in Britain, but it is not widely used. Another version, Implanon, made by the Dutch company Organon, is expected to be granted a licence shortly. This is a single 50mm hormone releasing rod inserted under the skin of the arm and lasting three years. There is also a contraceptive injection, Depo Provera, which works for about eight weeks.

Mr Blair ordered the inquiry last year to find out why Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe. They run at a rate of 9.4 per thousand 13- to 15-year-olds, half of whom have abortions. In the 15-to-19 age range the rate is 63 per thousand.

Professor Guillebaud said the implants would be an ideal way to tackle the problem. "When you have an area with a huge rate of teenage pregnancies, you could go into a school with the consent of the parents and fit this device so that everybody would start out not being able to have a baby," he said.

But Valerie Riches, director of Family and Youth Concern, condemned the Government's request for research material. "This is a short-sighted, damaging idea," she said: "This will simply mean that young girls can do it whenever they want - it means parents will have hardly any say at all. The message to men is, `here are kids, here are the sex objects to be used'."