Teenage pregnancy rate curbed by poster campaign: Charles Oulton reports on a plan that treats sexually-active children like adults

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The Independent Online
THE POSTER is different to the normal consumer-orientated material on billboards across the United States.

Above a photograph of a chicken wearing trendy men's boots is the question: 'What do you call a guy who makes a baby and flies the coop?' The answer: 'A chicken. What else? A real man takes responsibility for his actions.'

The advertisement, one of several appeals for sexual responsibility in Baltimore, Maryland, is part of a publicity campaign which has produced encouraging results.

Bronwyn Mayden, the former director of Baltimore's adolescent pregnancy programme, will today tell an audience in Birmingham that while 48 US states reported an 8 per cent rise in teenage pregnancies, Maryland claims to have pegged its increase to 2 per cent for the third year running.

One of the secrets, Ms Mayden will tell the meeting organised by the Brook Advisory Centres, lies in warning children about teenage pregnancy without limiting their capacity to make decisions. In this, she is opposed to an American movement which is campaigning to persuade young people to remain virgins until they are married.

In May, 20,000 young people attended a rally in Washington where they presented a petition signed by 2,000 people who had sworn a virginity pledge.

The Maryland experiment - which could be helpful in Britain as the Government refocuses its attention on the need for sex education in schools - is particularly interesting because most people in Maryland are Catholic.

But Ms Mayden appears to have persuaded schools and the community that contraception is better than teenage pregnancy. They have done so as a result of a partnership between the government and the private sector. 'We formed a non-profit organisation and appealed to businesses to donate money,' she said.

'We went to businesses like banks and electrical companies that traditionally would not give money to something like this. One construction company gave dollars 250,000 because it was interested to see if it succeeded. It did succeed, and a number of other states are buying this campaign from Maryland.' Although the campaign has concentrated on reaching children before they are sexually active, it has also targeted older children who have started having sex, urging the need for responsibility.

'There is a need to work on more than one strategy,' she said. 'The virginity pledge is a very simplistic approach. You cannot just have a media campaign delaying sexual activity. You also need to have a strong message for those young people who are already sexually active.

'There must be an increased access to family planning. The majority of clinics operated by the state were only open during the day when the children are supposed to be in school.

'We have now asked that they open during the evenings as well as weekends. We have also worked to get clinics inside schools to provide a full range of health services, not just family planning. This way, people will not know what the children are going for,' she said.

(Photograph omitted)

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