Teenage magazines will warn on pregnancy risk

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The Independent Online
TEENAGE magazines are to be used to help alert girls to the dangers of under-age sex after figures revealed the highest number of schoolgirl pregnancies in more than 10 years, the Government said yesterday.

Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, has met magazine editors to discuss ways of educating young girls on the risks of under-age sex as letters to the magazines from teenage girls revealed "woeful levels of ignorance", she said.

In the past the teen magazines have been criticised for being too sexually explicit. In 1996, the Conservative MP Peter Luff attacked the magazines for their "squalid titillation, salaciousness and smut", and he introduced a Bill to force them to carry age warnings on sexually explicit material.

The same year the first report from the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel censured Sugar and Bliss for printing unrepresentative figures in surveys which suggested, falsely, that the vast majority of readers were sexually active.

But Ms Jowell believes the magazines will influence young readers. Speaking at a conference organised by the Family Planning Association at the Royal Society of Arts in London, she said: "Many teenagers who find it difficult to talk to parents get their information from teenage magazines.

"So, yes, we do see them as having an important part to play in getting good and responsible information over to teenagers, both boys and girls

"There is no point in the Government creating a national programme, to combat teenage pregnancies, that teenagers up and down the country turn their back on because they see it as irrelevant."

The move follows annual figures for 1996 which revealed that 8,800 girls aged 15 and under became pregnant. About half had abortions. The conception rate among girls aged 13 to 15 rose by 11 per cent between 1995 and 1996 and it is the third year in a row that there has been such a rise. The Government is currently looking at ways to tackle the number of under- age pregnancies. A national programme is expected to be launched in May.

Evidence shows that some teenage girls do not know that if you have sex you will get pregnant, or that if you kiss someone with your clothes on, that you will not get pregnant.

"It is levels of ignorance that exposes the vulnerability of certain young girls. These are real cries for help This is not about advocating sex, it is recognising the reality of life," Ms Jowell said.

"Pretending too many young children are having sex is not going to achieve anything. We need to recognise that many are, too many are, in ignorance of the consequences for them."

Marina Gask, editor of Sugar said that the magazines would be offering "sensible advice about taking responsibility for yourself and not rushing into a sexual relationship until you are ready."