Sharp rise in under-age pregnancies

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FAMILY PLANNING experts said yesterday that an 11 per cent rise in the number of under-age girls becoming pregnant was due to fears over the contraceptive pill caused by the 1995 health scare.

The conception rate for girls aged 13 to 15 rose from 8.5 per thousand in 1995 to 9.4 per thousand in 1996, according to birth figures republished by the Office for National Statistics. More than three-quarters of the girls falling pregnant were 15-year-olds, and more than half of them had abortions, the figures, first released in March, showed.

Family planning experts worry that the contraceptive pill scare of October 1995 means that, because of health fears, girls may have delayed using contraception despite becoming sexually active.

Alison Hadley, spokeswoman for the Brook Advisory Centres said a rise in conceptions in all age groups had been anticipated in 1996.

"With girls under 16 you often find when they first start having sex they are not getting proper advice." she said.

"Eventually they pluck up the courage to come to a centre for advice and then, if they are in a stable relationship, perhaps go on the Pill. The Pill scare meant they were practising unsafe sex for longer."

But Ann Furedi, spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the idea of young motherhood was being seen as more desirable, rather than something to be avoided.

"While such pregnancies might not exactly be planned, they are not entirely an accident." she said. "For some, having a child is a rite of passage. Very often young girls have a romanticised view of what motherhood entails."

Both said that comprehensive sex education was the way to combat increased numbers of pregnancies by teenagers.

Overall there were an estimated 816,000 conceptions in England and Wales in 1996, 26,000 more than in 1995. The increase of 3.3 per cent in conceptions was the first since 1990, but births in 1997 resumed their decline.

There were 642,000 live births in England and Wales in 1997, a decrease of 1.1 per cent compared with 649,000 in 1996, which had shown the first increase since 1990. The figures also showed a rise in the number of children born outside marriage. In 1996, 37 per cent of live births were to unmarried parents, compared with 23 per cent of live births 10 years ago.

Of these, 79 per cent were registered jointly by the mother and father. In 1997 there were 142,000 births jointly registered by unmarried parents living at the same address, compared with 75,000 in 1987.

Births registered by the mother alone, indicating a lone- parent family, have remained steady at about 50,000 each year for the past decade.