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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.

The report says pressure from friends, alcohol and opportunity all play their part in teenage pregnancies
A total of 7,317 girls called ChildLine about pregnancy in 1997-1998.

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.

Alison Holt: The charity wants sex education to be more widely available
ChildLine's senior policy officer Gill Keep, who compiled the report, said it paints a grim picture of the gap between theoretical knowledge of contraception and the reality.

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."

[ image: Health Minister Tessa Jowell pledged action]
Health Minister Tessa Jowell pledged action
Responding the the ChildLine report, Ms Jowell told the House of Commons that the government was "determined" to tackle teenage pregnancy rates.

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:

  • 7,317 were from girls and 434 from boys;
  • 4,789 of the girls who gave their age were between 12 and 15;
  • Sixty per cent of those who described their families were living with both parents;
  • Twenty-five per cent were living with their mother and her partner;
  • Six per cent were living with their mother only;
  • Five per cent were in a stepfamily;
  • 347 callers had been sexually abused;
  • Sixty-one were in local authority care;
  • Only 128 mentioned that they had seen a doctor.

Parental concerns

[ image: ChildLine receives thousands of calls about unwanted pregnancy]
ChildLine receives thousands of calls about unwanted pregnancy
Many callers to Childline were as worried about the reaction of their parents as about the pregnacy itself.

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:

  • Young people should have easy access to confidential advice, for instance from nurses based at schools or in GP practices;
  • Schools and youth clubs should have phones so that young people can make private calls to helplines like ChildLine;
  • Sex and relationship education should be improved and developed, and should start in primary school;
  • It should include the emotional aspects of relationships, how to resist peer pressure and the implications of parenthood;
  • Doctors should be given clear guidance on dealing with young people under 16 who seek contraception;
  • Parents need information about how to talk to their children about sex and relationships;
  • Social services and child care organisations should offer better support to young women in troubled family situations.

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.

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