Named: worst areas for teen pregnancies

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The Independent Online
TEENAGE PREGNANCY "hot spots" will be targeted first in a pounds 60m drive to halve the number of young girls conceiving in the next 10 years, the Government announced yesterday.

Wansbeck in Northumberland, and Lambeth, Hackney, Lewisham and Southwark in London are the five worst areas in the country for teenage conception rates and will be the first to implement the proposals. Lambeth tops the list, with 86 out of every 1,000 girls under 18 becoming pregnant on average in any given year.

Under the new guidelines, single mothers under 18 will no longer have the right to a council flat but will be looked after in supervised hostels where they will receive parenting lessons, social support and help with education or finding work.

Sex education at school will be overhauled. Primary schools will have to have a policy on sex and relationships education, and secondary school sex education will be more comprehensive, focusing on boys as much as girls.

The number of school nurses will be increased and their role expanded to advise teenagers on how to get contraception, when they are under age and without parental consent if necessary.

The drive to reduce teenage pregnancy will not be aimed only at young women. Young men will be left in no doubt as to their financial obligations and will be pursued by the Child Support Agency, regardless of their age.

Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Social Security, said: "We are particularly concerned about fathers of children born to teenage mothers, who have never lived with their children and who need help with facing up to their responsibilities."

A system of "peer mentoring", where teenage mothers visit schools to tell pupils how hard their role is, will be set up nationally.

Tessa Jowell, the Minister for Public Health, said in an ideal world nobody under the age of 16 would have sex, but one in three teenagers did. Radical action was needed to cut the number of unwanted pregnancies.

"We have the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe," said Ms Jowell. "Moralising and wringing our hands won't get us anywhere. Action will. We need to dispel the ignorance which surrounds sex, to combat the low expectations of those young girls who think life with a child on benefit is the best they can hope for, and unravel the mixed messages with which children are bombarded, where they are surrounded by sexual imagery without reference to the responsibilities associated with sexual activity.

"It is very easy to get pregnant but it is very hard to be a parent. For these vulnerable young people, we want to give them back their childhood," she said. "In cases where young girls do become mothers we need to provide support."

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the Government's initiative. Dr George Carey said: "I look forward to seeing how this commitment is to be translated into reality. The most effective way of preventing teenage pregnancy is to abstain from teenage sex."

In England there are 90,000 conceptions a year to teenagers; 30,000 of these are to under-18s, and 10,000 are to under-16s.Nearly two-thirds of the girls give birth and in 90 per cent of cases the mother is on her own by the child's first birthday.

Although 8 out of 10 teenage mothers live at home, there are 2,000 to 3,000 who need help with housing. Teenage mothers are three times more likely than other mothers to have post-natal depression and 90 per cent live on benefits.