FAMILY planning campaigners warned yesterday that the ramifications of the health scare in 1995 over some brands of the contraceptive Pill were still unfolding, as it was revealed that the number of underage pregnancies was the highest for more than a decade.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the conception rate among girls aged 13 to 15 rose by 11 per cent between 1995 and 1996. It is the third year in a row that there has been such a rise.
In 1996, 8,800 girls under 16 years of age became pregnant, the highest number since 1985 when there were 9,406 under-age pregnancies. The conception rate among this age group in 1996 was 9.4 per 1,000 girls, 11 per cent higher than the 1995 rate of 8.5 per 1,000.
The Government is currently looking at ways to tackle the number of under- age pregnancies in Britain. A national programme is expected to be launched next May.
The Family Planning Association said that it was concerned by the figures and blamed the increase in part on the Pill scare of October 1995. As a result of health fears, young girls may have delayed using contraception despite becoming sexually active.
Anne Weyman, chief executive of the FPA, said: "We urge the speedy implementation of a national policy which will guarantee good information and advice for young people to help them make informed choices."
And Ann Furedi of the Birth Control Trust added: "The Pill scare seriously undermined women's confidence in hormonal methods of contraception. The Pill was damaged in the eyes of young women and they saw it as less desirable to start on it. Whether or not they sought alternative methods of contraception we don't know, but the advantage of hormonal methods of contraception is that you don't have to think about it at the time."
Yesterday's figures show that 52 per cent of girls under 16 who become pregnant have an abortion. The total number of pregnancies among girls under 16 dropped from an all-time high in 1985 of 9,406 to 7,243 in 1993.
The overall conception rate among women aged 15 to 44 increased slightly between 1995 and 1996 from 74 to 76 per 1,000.
There are clear regional differences in the rates of teenage pregnancies. In 1994-96, the deprived south London district of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham had the highest conception rate among under-16s in England and Wales - 17.6 per 1,000 - while the East Surrey health authority area had the lowest rate of 3.5 among this age group.
One of the initiatives to tackle underage pregnancies favoured by public health minister Tessa Jowell is to encourage teenage boys to talk about the emotional as well as physical aspects of relationships.
Focus groups designed to look at the issue, involving young people, parents and teachers, will be set up in the spring.
"There is a role for parents and for teachers," Ms Jowell said. "Having sex at 12 or 13 robs you of your childhood and it is the job of parents and teachers to safeguard a childhood."
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