Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 14:26 GMT
Government pledges to cut teen pregnancies
Teenage girls often take chances with sex
Health Minister Tessa Jowell has promised practical measures to tackle teenage pregnancy after the charity ChildLine revealed it is bombarded by thousands of calls on the issue from girls every year.
Of those who gave their ages, almost 80% were under 16. Some were as young as 12.
More 14 and 15-year-old girls call ChildLine about pregnancy than any other issue.
A ChildLine report, I Can't Believe It Has Happened to Me, was prepared in response to a request from the government's Social Exclusion Unit, which is due to publish its own report into tackling teenage pregnancy in the next month.
The charity estimates that around one in four young women who are pregnant call ChildLine.
She said: "Children as young as 12 are having sexual relationships, often unplanned or secretly, sometimes as part of a longer term relationship.
"In the main, young people's early sexual experiences do not seem to be planned or even explicitly chosen.
"Peer pressure, pressure from boyfriends, too much alcohol and sheer opportunity all played a part.
"Young people generally knew about the facts of life and contraception, but they did not seem to have put their knowledge into practice."
Ms Jowell told MPs that the Government wanted to "put in place a practical programme based on what works, engaging parents, teachers and young people up and down the country".
An estimated 55% of the girls who telephoned ChildLine about pregnancy concerns were actually pregnant.
The vast majority of callers had had unprotected sexual intercourse, which they knew could lead to pregnancy.
Of the 7,751 calls about pregnancy to ChildLine in 1997-1998:
Of the 3,551 young women who mentioned to the ChildLine counsellor that they had confided in anybody about their pregnancy, only 336 had told their parents, while 1,523 had told a friend.
Many described troubled family lives, which included physical and emotional abuse, and siblings and parents misusing drugs and alcohol.
Sixty of the callers had run away rather than face their parients.
Even in households without additional problems, parents had reacted badly to the news of the pregnancy.
Many teenagers said they had been thrown out of home as soon as they told their parents.
One 15-year-old girl told a ChildLine counsellor: "I've just found out I'm pregnant. My mum gave me three days to decide on an abortion.
"When I told her I wanted to keep it, she threw me out."
Some callers had been able to stay with friends, but others were walking the streets and sleeping in the park.
ChildLine makes a number of recommendations in its report:
Britain has the highest number of teenage mothers in western Europe, and ChildLine's research will be sent to a government taskforce which is currently considering the problem.