Teen pregnancies 'have not risen in the past 20 years'

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The Independent Online

THE RECENT upsurge in concern over teenage pregnancy is ill-founded because the number ofgirls and young women becoming pregnant has not changed in the past 20 years, according to areport today.

THE RECENT upsurge in concern over teenage pregnancy is ill-founded because the number ofgirls and young women becoming pregnant has not changed in the past 20 years, according to areport today.

The analysis of teenage pregnancy by the Family Policy Studies Centre, (FPSC) a leading researchorganisation, has found that although the United Kingdom has the highest rate of teenage births inWestern Europe, it has remained fairly static since the early 1980s. Many countries, includingSweden, Denmark and Norway, have seen their teenage birth rates fall because of an increase inabortion rates rather than fewer young women becoming pregnant.

Teenage motherhood has only become an issue in our society because these young parents cannotsupport themselves and are forced to rely on benefits, said Ceridwen Roberts, director of the centre."Societal values about teenage mothers have changed. The numbers are similar but 30 years ago theymight have given their babies up or had shotgun marriages ... It is the income situation of thesecouples that has changed. Thirty years ago teenage parents were much more likely to be able tosupport themselves. There are only one or two 12-year-old mothers each year, the vast bulk ofteenage mothers are aged 17,18, or 19. Twenty years ago this would not have been considered tooyoung to have children," she said.

The report highlights the reduced life chances for teenage parents, 90 per cent of whom live onbenefits for several years.

The labour market has changed so much that completing full-time education and gainingqualifications is much more important in getting a first job. Teenage parents who have stepped offthe "educational ladder" become much more of an economic and social burden.

Sex education, access to abortion and moral disapproval are not sufficient to reduce teenagepregnancy, the report argues. Tackling the disadvantage and poor job prospects is crucial, otherwise"a minority of young women will continue to invest in the only route into adulthood open to them -their sexuality and their ability to conceive - and everyone will pay the price."

In 1997, there were 95,500 conceptions by girls and women under 20 - 8,300 of whom were underthe age of 16. There has been very little change in conception rates since the early 1970s withapproximately eight girls in every thousand becoming pregnant before their 16th birthday.

Ms Roberts said: "The groups most at risk from early parenthood are those who have little going forthem in our society... Reducing teenage pregnancy is really about tackling the poverty of opportunitythat faces many young people particularly those in inner cities."

The Government aims to halve the rate of conceptions among under 18s by 2010. Tessa Jowell, thePublic Health minister, will tell an FPSC conference today: "The problem of teenage pregnancy andpoor sexual health is not going to go away by itself. The Government is not giving up on it."

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