Rate of teenage pregnancies is highest for nearly a decade

Advisory group demands sex education lessons for children aged eight
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The Independent Online

Teenage pregnancies have risen to their highest level in nearly a decade despite government initiatives intended to reduce the rate.

Teenage pregnancies have risen to their highest level in nearly a decade despite government initiatives intended to reduce the rate.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics yesterday show that 101,500 teenagers became pregnant in 1998, compared with 96,000 the year before. Nearly half of teenagers who became pregnantwere under 18; 8,438 were under 16. Today's teenagers are also increasingly likely to opt for an abortion, with 42 per cent choosing to do so in 1998, compared with 40.6 in 1997.

Teenage pregnancy campaigners said they were disappointed with the findings and urged ministers to be more realistic and pragmatic about what needs to be done.

Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. The Government has pledged to halve teenage pregnancy rates by 2010 and is expecting to reduce the number of young girls who become pregnant this year by 2,000.

Alison Hadley, head of policy at Brook, a network of centres that gives advice on sex and contraception to young people, said: "There is still a problem between the Government's health and education departments. They should be much more pragmatic and realistic...The sex and education guidance to schools should give teachers the confidence they need to educate children about sex at a young age."

She said sex education should start at primary school, as girls aged eight and nine were showing signs of puberty. "Research has shown that young people are 50 times more likely to use contraception the first time they have sex if it has been discussed ... beforehand."

The figures showed that 47 in every 1,000 girls aged under 18 became pregnant in 1998 compared with 45.6 per 1,000 the year before, and only 44.6 per 1,000 in 1991. Abortion rates were highest in girls under 16 with more than half - 52.5 per cent - opting to terminate their pregnancy, compared with 49.7 per cent in 1997.

The rise in teenage pregnancies is not reflected among women in their twenties, where falling conception rates confirm the trend that most women are having children later in life. The number of women aged 40 and over becoming pregnant is now 35 per cent higher than in 1990.

The rise in teenage pregnancies during the Nineties has partly been blamed on the Pill scare in 1995, when fewer girls used the contraceptive after a warning that there was a higher risk of thrombosis.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the rising rate of teenage pregnancy was not an indication of failed government policy.

"These figures were produced before the Government's drive has had time to become effective," he said. "We have appointed 150 co-ordinators, one for each health authority, to ... develop strategies to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate. Education, publicity and the teenage co-ordinators will lead the Government's campaign to cut the rate."