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The Family Planning Association's Diane Lea
"We're pleased the government is doing this"
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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
'Virginity' scheme under fire
Young mums
The UK's teenage pregnancy rate is among Europe's highest
A controversial new government campaign aimed at tackling high teenage pregnancy rates has drawn a mixed response from advisory organisations.

The forthcoming 2m campaign will encourage teenagers to resist peer pressure to have sex early, through a series of advertisements in magazines.

But the British Pregnancy Advisory Scheme (BPAS) has compared the scheme's value to government spending on the Millennium Dome, and says the money would be better spent on helping sexually active young people avoid pregnancy.

The UK has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe, with more than 90,000 girls under the age of 19 becoming pregnant each year.

Government advertising to promote virginity is about as good an investment as the Millennium Dome

Ann Furedi, BPAS
The government campaign - which aims to persuade teenage girls to consider the consequences of having sex - is part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's 60m Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, announced last year.

This also includes plans to appoint 100 teenage pregnancy co-ordinators in health authorities across the country.

Practical help

Ann Furedi, of the BPAS, said: "We welcome any initiative to try to reduce teenage pregnancy, but there's a big question about whether promoting abstinence is going to be an effective way of doing that."

Initiatives were needed to tackle the high number of unwanted teenage pregnancies, she told GMTV on Tuesday, adding that about 10,000 teenage girls contact the BPAS about unwanted pregnancy each year.

"I really worry that government advertising to promote virginity is about as good an investment as the investment in the Millennium Dome," said Ms Furedi.

"We would far rather see the money given to organisations which actively provide practical help for young people, who are trying to avoid pregnancy and yet maybe still are involved in sexual activity."

Tory health spokesman Dr Liam Fox said: "The Government's message is fine as far as it goes. We welcome any measures to discourage irresponsible sexual behaviour amongst young people.

"However, these are issues which should properly be dealt with by parents and those qualified to do so."

Peer problem

Previous experience had shown that young people do not respond to "lecturing" about sexual behaviour, she added.

But the government has denied that the main direction of the campaign would be to tell young people not to have sex.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the campaign will offer practical advice and suggestions to raise awareness of the problems associated with teenage pregnancy.

One campaign will tackle the problem of peer pressure, which can persuade young women to have sex early in their teenage years.

Other advertisements will address questions such as contraception and the risks of disease.

As far as I know it is not about telling people to remain virgins

Juliet Hillier, Brook Advisory Centres

It will include slogans such as "Sex - are you thinking about it enough?"

But she denied a newspaper report that its slogan would be "It's okay to be a virgin".

The Family Planning Association has welcomed the campaign.

A spokeswoman said: "We think its a good idea. As far as we know it has been very well researched. It's being well publicised and well funded.

"I think it is also going to be aimed at boys and condom use, which again will be useful, because increased condom use influences rates of sexually transmitted infections, and this is also important."

Juliet Hillier, of Brook Advisory Centres, said the campaign would provide young people with "information on sexual health in a way that is non-judgemental and supportive".

"As far as I know it is not about telling people to remain virgins, because that would not work.

"It is about helping them to make their own sexual health choices.

"Given that nobody has seen it, least of all the newspaper editors, why not wait until we have seen it," she added.

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See also:

17 Aug 00 | Health
Teenage girls fail with Pill
13 Feb 00 | Health
Young take risks with sex
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