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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
UK heads teen birth league
Baby
Teenage pregnancy is a major social issue
The UK has the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world, a survey has found.

A report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says the UK has made little progress in combating the problem.


It sometimes seems as if sex is compulsory but contraception has failed

British teenager
It says that one of the most significant factors is the poor quality of sex education in the UK.

Sexual codes have become more relaxed without corresponding changes to prepare teenagers to cope with the new pressures.

The report said: "Contraceptive advice and services may be formally available, but in a closed atmosphere of embarrassment and secrecy.

"Or as one British teenager puts it, `It sometimes seems as if sex is compulsory but contraception has failed'."

The high levels of inequality in British society were also blamed. Girls from poor areas, says the report, have little incentive not to become mothers.

US tops list

UNICEF carried out research in 28 developed countries. Only the US registered a higher rate of teenage pregnancies.

The report praises the Netherlands, where the teenage pregnancy rate has been cut by over 70% in the last 30 years.

Dutch teenagers are five times less likely to become parents than their British counterparts and abortion rates are low.

Britain has only seen a 38% drop in teenage pregnancies during the same 30 year period, although a new government campaign since 1998 has led to a decline of more than 6%.

UNICEF adds that while 17 or 18 may be the best time physically to have a baby, teenage mothers have much poorer prospects.

They are more likely to drop out of school, to have poor qualifications, to be unemployed or in low paid jobs.

There were 31 births per 1,000 British girls aged between 15 and 19 in 1998. In the US the figure was 52 per 1,000 births.

Japan, Korea, Switzerland and the Netherlands have the lowest teenage birth rates at fewer than seven per 1,000.

The age at which British youngsters lose their virginity has fallen from 20 for men and 21 for women 40 years ago, to 17 for both sexes today.

The number of girls having underage sex has also doubled in the last 10 years, says the report.

See also:

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