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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
MPs demand teenage sex review
Britain has the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe
MPs and peers have demanded an urgent review of the government's policies for reducing teenage pregnancies.

The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe. The government has pledged to halve the number of births to young girls by 2010.

However, MPs and peers have suggested the strategy may be doing more harm than good.

What we want is unbiased scrutiny at local level

Jim Dobbin MP
The Department of Health defended its policies, which include making contraception and the morning after pill more widely available and improving sex education.

Contradictory evidence

In a statement, MPs said: "Some sources claim that wide scale contraceptive programmes decrease teenage pregnancies.

"Others state that wide scale family planning facilities for the young increase rather than diminish sexual activities and conceptions among under age girls.

"We need evidence as to the effects of any programme that is being conducted in this country."

The MPs, which include those with pro-life and pro-choice views, called on local councillors to review the effects of the government's policies.

The teenage pregnancy strategy is administered by primary care trusts and local authorities.

Speaking to journalists in the House of Commons, Labour MP Jim Dobbin said: "What we want is unbiased scrutiny at local level."

A study by Dr David Patton of Nottingham University, published in March, suggested the government's strategy may actually increase pregnancies and abortions among teenage girls.

His figures show that the number of girls attending family clinics increased by 144% between 1992 and 2000, while prescriptions for the after-morning pill tripled in the same period.

However, conception rates actually rose during this period by just under 1% while sexually transmitted diseases among 16-to-19-year-old females had increased by 58%.

Dr Paton told MPs: "There is urgent need for good quality statistical research examining the impact of recent policy initiatives at regional level."

He added: "The government's policy does not seem to be working.

"The government says there is evidence behind their policies but it all appears to disappear into thin air."

Policies defended

The Department of Health defended its strategy.

A spokesman said: "Research shows that the most effective approach for reducing teenage conception rates is a multi-faceted approach which includes helping young people resist pressure to have early sex; improving sex and relationship education in schools and access to effective contraceptive advice services; and supporting parents in talking to their children.

"Local teenage pregnancy strategies have been developed for each local authority area in line with this evidence. There are encouraging early signs that the strategy is working with a 6% fall in the under 18 and under 16 conception rates in two years.

"A comprehensive review of international research shows that the provision of specialist contraceptive information and advice services for young people increase the use of contraception without increasing sexual activity."

See also:

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