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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK

Teenage pregnancy: The reaction

Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe

Plans to halve teenage pregnancy in 10 years have been broadly welcomed by both health experts and anti-abortion campaigners.

The government's social exclusion unit report won support from a range of organisations, from the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Family Planning Association to anti-abortion group LIFE.

Teen pregnancy
The Conservatives also welcomed the plans, particularly the proposal that teenage mothers be housed in supported accommodation rather than given their own council flats.

LIFE also welcomed the hostels plan. It currently runs 36 houses for mothers and their babies and said it looked forward to working with the government in the future.

However, the Conservatives were more cautious about government plans to extend sex education.

"We have never had so much sex education, so much availability of free advice, so much ready availability of contraception, and yet we have got record levels of teenage pregnancies," said Ms Widdecombe.

But health and family planning experts backed the extension of sex education.

The BMA said better sex education and easier access to health professionals was the way forward.

It also welcomed the multi-agency approach to teen pregnancies.

But teachers were worried too much of the burden for sex education could fall on their shoulders.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the message needed to be "hammered home" to parents that they should not expect schools to do their job for them when it came to sex education.

General secretary David Hart said: "Strengthening links between schools and parents is one thing. Expecting schools to become excessively proactive is quite another."

He said secondary schools needed more teachers who were able to teach sex education and added that there was an argument for more programmes aimed at older children in primary schools.


Alison Hadley of Brook Advisory Centres said it was important teenagers did not feel they were being lectured by government.

She was disappointed that the government had not made a high standard of sex education compulsory.

"It often falls off schools' agenda. We want to make sure it is absolutely central," she said.

Currently, secondary schools are only required to teach the biology of reproduction. Anything beyond this is discretionary.

However, David Hart warned that the National Curriculum was already overcrowded.

The Family Planning Association congratulated the government on a "broad and comprehensive review" of the issues relating to teen pregnancy, but warned that the proof of their effectiveness would come in their implementation.

Anne Weyman, its chief executive, said: "It is vital that any action taken responds to the needs of young people and not to the prejudices of adults."

And the Royal College of Nursing said the government needed to put more resources into the school nursing service if it wanted to boost the advice they give to school children.

The government's proposals fall short of allowing nurses to give out contraceptives to underage children, but give them a greater role in providing advice and information.


However, there was criticism from the hard left. Living Marxism magazine called the proposals "practically inept and ideologically driven".

It said the government should focus more on making contraception more available, rather than "moralising about the costs and consequences of teenage sex".

And it said the focus on fathers' financial responsibilities provided a stereotyped view of young men's role in relationships and would not give mothers the support they needed.

Editor Mick Hume said: "What possible benefit could 15% of some spotty youth's pocket money be to a teenage mother?"

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