Pupils under 16 to get free contraception and abortion advice in classroom

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The Independent Online

Chlidren under 16 will be able to obtain free contraceptives at school and gain easier access to NHS abortions under government plans announced yesterday.

Chlidren under 16 will be able to obtain free contraceptives at school and gain easier access to NHS abortions under government plans announced yesterday.

In an attempt to cut Britain's alarmingly high rate of teenage pregnancies, schools will be encouraged to provide special clinics for pupils to obtain confidential advice about sex.

Free condoms and contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, would be available from nurses or doctors without parents being informed. The Department of Health also pledged to "increase NHS abortion provision" so that teenagers across the country have early access to free terminations.

Young people will be given more information about long-term contraceptive implants or injections in a campaign on sexual health this autumn. And an experiment to make cheap condoms available via special vending machines in Manchester could be extended nationwide.

The proposals, which are in response to a report by the Independent Advisory Group of Teenage Pregnancy (IAG) last year, were immediately attacked by the Tories for undermining parental authority.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, said: "Giving contraception in schools is a wrong move by the Government because it undermines parental authority. Decisions are being detached from schools and parents and given to central authorities. These people do not have to pick up the pieces if this policy goes wrong."

But Anne Weyman, chief executive of the FPA (formerly the Family Planning Association) said: "The rate of teenage pregnancy in this country is too high and action to bring it down is essential. Measures such as this are eminently sensible."

Although teenage conceptions have declined by 6 per cent in the past few years, the UK still has the highest rate in western Europe, with twice as many pregnancies as Germany, three times as many as France and six times as many as Holland.

In England, one in every 10 babies are born to teenage mothers and girls from the poorest backgrounds are 10 times more likely to become pregnant than those from middle-class families.

The Government aims to halve the rate of under-18 conceptions by 2010. Hazel Blears, the Health Minister, insisted yesterday that "good progress" was being made, but admitted that "much remains to be done".

Pupils already receive sex education at school. But school inspectors recently said that it was failing to teach youngsters enough about the dangers of sexually transmitted disease.

Research published in the British Medical Journal also showed that sex education classes have little or no impact in reducing teenage pregnancies and unsafe sex.

And a health department spokeswoman denied that easier access to contraception would encourage children to have sex. "Countries which have this kind of programme running properly in conjunction with good sex and relationships education in the classroom have the lowest rates of teenage conception," she said.