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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK

Boys face teen pregnancy crackdown

Britain has a poor track record on preventing teen pregnancies

Boys who father children are to be brought face to face with the consequences of unprotected sex as part of a £60m programme to tackle teenage pregnancy.

The BBC's Niall Dickson: The boldest attempt yet to do something about this
The government's social exclusion unit's long-awaited proposals on teenage pregnancy proposes "a radical set of changes to the systems for preventing teenage pregnancy and supporting teenage parents" in England and Wales.

This includes a maintenance crackdown on teen fathers and a huge publicity campaign to tell young people how hard it is to be a parent and how easy it is to get pregnant.

Teen pregnancy
Britain has the highest teen pregnancy levels in Western Europe.

In England alone about 90,000 babies are born to teenage mothers a year, six times the number in the Netherlands and four times that in France.

Britain was level with these countries 25 years ago.

The government proposes halving the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies in England and Wales by 2010.

'Shameful record'

[ image:  ]
Launching the report on Monday, public health minister Tessa Jowell said: "We need to dispel the ignorance which surrounds sex, to combat the low expectations of those young girls who think like with a child on benefit is the best they can hope for, and to unravel the mixed messages with which children are bombarded - where they are surrounded by sexual imagery without reference to the responsibilities associated with sexual activity."

"Just as importantly, we need to ensure that boys are made aware that fatherhood is not a one-night stand, but a long-term responsibility."

Prime minister Tony Blair said: "For too long it has been as if girls somehow got pregnant on their own. That attitude has got to change.

"Teenage pregnancy is not right, it is not in anyone's interests and doe not work for mothers, fathers, children or society."

The key points of the new strategy are:

  • A new emphasis on young men so that they resist peer pressure to start sex too young, know the cost to their health of unprotected sex, play a role in the upbringing and cost of any children they father
  • More advice for parents to help them talk to their children about sexual health and pregnancy
  • Semi-supervised accommodation for the small number of teenage mothers who choose not to live with their families. This will begin with pilot schemes and will be national policy by 2003 with teen mothers no longer qualifying for a council house. It will include help and advice to encourage mothers to stay on in education and get a job
  • New guidance on contraceptives for under 16s that sets out the importance of delaying sex
  • More accessible contraceptive advice with extra funding for areas with high levels of teenage pregnancy
  • A national publicity campaign to warn of the dangers of teenage pregnancy
  • A cross-governmental task force on teenage pregnancy
  • An extension of helplines offering pregnancy and relationship advice to young people
  • Teenage parents to teach their peers of the hardships of early pregnancy.

Ms Jowell said that arguments from family campaigners that sex education increased sexual activity were bogus.

Tessa Jowell: why a radical approach is needed to teen pregnancy
She said encouraging the use of contraceptives did not mean condoning teenage sex.

It meant being realistic.

Ms Jowell added that teenage parents should not be punished, but supported so that they did not become marginalised.


Writing in Monday's Daily Mail, prime minister Tony Blair called the Britain's teen pregnancy record "shameful" and said governments had steered clear of the subject because it was controversial.

The BBC's Niall Dickson: "The report will spell out the harsh realities"
He said: "Put simply, you are still a child when you are 14 and, in a civilised society, children should not be having children."

He added that the knock-on effects were a cycle of poverty and deprivation, with children born to teenage mothers more likely to become teenage parents themselves.

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Mr Blair said the Child Support Agency reforms were geared towards ensuring that boys who fathered children were tracked down and forced to pay towards maintenance.

It is thought that just 15% of teenage mothers currently receive maintenance from their fathers.

Shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe said she supported the government's attempt to reduce teenage pregnancy, but believed there was a connection between "so much sex education, free advice and contraception" and the "record levels of teenage pregnancies".

Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar said the Scottish Parliament would develop its own policy on single parents.

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