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Monday, 5 March, 2001, 09:41 GMT
How can teen pregnancy be reduced?
The UK Government is offering teenage mothers free childcare if they go back to education or training.
The pilot programme aims to break the cycle of poverty and underachievement that dogs teenage mothers. Ninety percent of them live on state handouts and their daughters are more likely to become young mothers themselves.
The government does not want to be seen to encourage underage motherhood and says the scheme will be closely monitored. Girls who don't turn up for school will lose their childcare.
Britain has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe and other attempts to lower it have failed.
Can this scheme work? What is the best way of tackling this problem?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Demystify sex with proper education, and remove the social taboo that still exists in the UK.
Make teenagers much more aware that unprotected sex is undesirable. Explain the true risks of STD's, and highlight the real issues associated with bringing up kids when you have no income.
Make contraceptives, especially condoms, much more widely available to teenagers, and stop being judgmental about their use.
Also, think of all the STD's that you may be contracting by using the pill as contraception. How many partners has your boyfriend had, how many partners have the partners had? My family never talked to me about contraception, neither did school. We also didn't have any spare cash to entertain us. In my opinion, these reasons for getting pregnant are all excuses. Why should teenagers get free nursery places for their children when those of us that work and have been paying our taxes for years have to pay for child care? If they did things in the right order, this wouldn't be a problem. Punish, don't promote!
As a teenager in the UK I honestly believe raising the legal age of consent to 18 is a painless way of reducing teenage sex and its consequences. It is too hard to enforce to actually have an effect on teenagers who really want (and feel they are ready) to have sex but for those (especially boys) who panic as they near 16 thinking it's not cool to still be a virgin when the law says you can be having sex, it would at least give them a couple more years to gain some maturity before the panic sets in.
Will someone please tell me what crime these young mums have committed? They got pregnant, it happens. I had my son when I was seventeen, way back in the dreadful fifties. My parents threw me out of home. The Unmarried Mothers Home I ended up in tried to force me to give my son up for adoption. They were not successful. When I left the home I was expected to live on a miserable pittance, not enough to keep a baby, so I was forced to return to work. No help with child care in those days. I quite frankly left my son with anyone who would have him. Fortunately I found a wonderful lady, his darling godmother. When I think of some of the offers I had (I was prepared to pay) my flesh creeps. We lived in one room until he was three years old, as there was such a long waiting list for public housing. No garden to play in for my son. I never had a night out until he was five and I met my present husband, who fortunately liked my son.
There have always been teenage pregnancies, and I suspect there always will be. Surely these girls and their babies deserve better treatment than that which was meted out to me. Good luck to the UK if they treat pregnant teenage girls as human beings, and their babies as deserving of all the love and consideration in the world. It is good to see some UK attitudes have changed for the better.
I think it is a good idea to help those who are pregnant but the fault is in teaching teenagers about sex. I am a teenager and I have never had sex education in school although I have learnt about sex and the consequences I never learnt it in school. If we had more information on sex we would know the pros and cons and learn how we can protect ourselves from being in that position.
I would like to say to Dave, Belgium (Ex - UK) and others like him that we "liberals" tend to live in the real world rather than one that existed 40 years ago. If you think your views will solve anything then good luck to you; just leave the rest of us to deal with the issues you can't (or won't) face. But you won't, will you? Have a good day!
I think that the Government's initiative is a step in the right direction. Teenage mothers are not often equipped with the maturity or the sense of obligation to someone other than oneself, because you can still be very much a child at such a young age. The government is offering a chance for teenage mothers to develop themselves both academically, vocationally and individually - which in the long run will be in the child's best interests. I feel that the Government's move is commendable. I hope sincerely that it takes off.
I agree with offering free childcare for teenage mothers if they resume education but then all young people should have the benefit of better education and training which is the building block of a modern, ambitious, and successful nation. Education for all!
This is so easy! Firstly make child care, getting pregnant and sex a compulsory GCSE subject this will automatically halve the interest. Then ensure all adults tell teenagers its really cool to get pregnant and have babies as young as possible, this will stop the rest of them as anything an adult recommends to a teenager is definitely a reason in itself not to do it. Doesn't anyone else remember being a teenager when adults are pure and simply wrong!
Dave, Belgium (Ex - UK)
How can the Government think this attitude would decrease the pregnancy? It would encourage girls to have babies!
They have to be conscious that 15-years-old mothers are not responsible at all, it doesn't matter if they will have money, if they have to study or not. They don't think about this when they are having sex.
In my opinion, education is the best way to prevent these cases. Definitely, a well-balanced family is essential to bring up a well-balanced person.
Students in this country have to burden themselves with large loans nowadays in order to get a university education. Single teenage mothers are given a council flat, money to bring up the child, and now, apparently, the option of free childcare to resume their education. Given that choice, what canny teenager wouldn't get pregnant? I think our priorities got a little mixed up in the last ten years!
Unless things have changed drastically, doesn't it take two, one of each sex, to make a baby and only one way of doing it? What's wrong with teaching boys to use a condom whenever they have sex as soon as they are old enough to understand what the word means. We can then not only stop unwanted pregnancies but also cut down on sexually transmitted diseases.
So the notion of staying faithful to one partner has become "outdated". Is it therefore "outdated" to frown on those who recklessly reproduce, creating babies they have no way of supporting and spending the rest of their lives sponging off the hard-pressed taxpayers, only for their children to perpetuate the cycle? Maybe the thousands of childless couples who are desperate to adopt could be given the chance to give these babies a home. Education should include the fact that pregnancy occurs whether you want it or not, that abstinence is a valid choice, and that adoption is as valid as abortion when the child is not wanted. Either that or keep the spongers in university-style halls of residence rather than giving them even more state handouts.
The real answer is to give teenagers something to aspire to that they will not be prepared to risk by getting pregnant. Most of these girls can't be very imaginative otherwise they'd realise how hard having children is - with or without state help - and they can't have any ambition for themselves otherwise they wouldn't jeopardise their life chances like they do. Ambition, aspiration, encouragement and opportunity is what they need - which I doubt they get from their own parents. That's why this scheme, in principle, is a very good idea. Just because the Dutch have a low teenage pregnancy rate does not necessarily mean they're not having sex; they might just be better educated and a lot more careful!
I don't know whether anyone has mentioned this already, but it's about time that the UK stopped its puritanical attitude towards sex education. Children should be taught about sex as soon as they are capable of understanding the biological and social implications of it. Sixteen is too late - by then, most teenagers have started to experiment and I am convinced that it is the taboo nature of sex that makes it so attractive to younger people. The number of pregnancies in the UK show another disturbing fact: people are not practising safe sex. Teenagers think they are invincible. They need to be taught that they are not.
Europe has been so progressive in its attitudes towards morality, it is now suffering the effects. You have not resolved the problems which lead to teenage pregnancy when you still believe, "if it feels good do it". Sadly, our country has the same attitude but most of us really do know why this is occurring. The lack of personal and public morality.
The solution to this situation is to work towards preserving the family and support it. Supporting the teenage pregnancy problem will not make it go away. This is typical of a liberal government - put money in a programme or make the action legal.
Whilst the Dutch are often regarded as "progressive" in this area, it should be noted that the Dutch social security system deliberately denies benefits to teenage mothers thus making it an economically unfeasible option. Being a teenage mother in Holland (and they do have them) is a very difficult existence indeed.
The comments of those claiming that, by offering training to teenage mothers, the Government are glamorising and encouraging teenage pregnancy are stupid. To use young mothers as a deterrent to other teenagers is a violation of human rights. The Government have got the right idea on this one: let's not treat young mothers like criminals, but help them make a better life for their children and themselves.
We live in a blame society. It's the parents fault, the teachers fault, the Government's fault, never our own fault.
Until everyone takes responsibility for their actions, none of the problems - teenage pregnancy, drinking, violence - will go away.
If you really want to reduce teenage pregnancies ask the Dutch. They have the lowest rates in Europe. A progressive society with education and tolerance at its heart is the key.
Parents need to demonstrate love towards each other and their children so that the children can learn what love and respect feels like and thus learn to recognise when they really want to have sex out of love as opposed to having it because "you'd do anything for a cuddle". The girls at my school who were having sex came from broken homes and were emotionally neglected. I think perhaps girls would take up the education if it was offered but would it be because they wanted the best for their child? Or would it be because it gets them away from the snotty kid for a few hours? I see too many young mothers smoking and screaming over their children and these children are going to grow up badly if families are not "taught" how to be families.
I wish the government luck on its initiative, but I think that offering free childcare to teenage mothers is a band-aid solution to a problem that requires radical surgery. The fact that Britain has one of Europe's highest teen pregnancy rates can be attributed to the fact that it has
one of Europe's highest divorce rates. Many teenage girls who get pregnant come from single-parent households, where there is no father present and no male role-model, so they have
distorted ideas about what is a loving relationship and will do anything for male companionship and affection.
Being adolescent is hard enough with the adolescents developing strong urges to strike out on their own, often against the grain of their parents and guardians. In good homes there is plenty of love and guidance at this terrible time, but unfortunately we see situations where the children are left to themselves for long periods; there are single mothers who regularly have children by different fathers and setting poor examples; and we get parents who could not care less what their children get up to as long as they aren't disturbed. Being a predominantly social animal man needs to mingle but needs to know how to conduct himself in a responsible fashion and the only way that can happen is through good examples shown through good parenting, which doesn't have to be 100% religious but built on common sense.
It's not sex education they need, it's baby education! If girls spent some time looking after babies, compulsorily, and realised it's not all smiles and cute stuff, they might think twice about having sex without protection (well, they will still have sex, so educate them about doing it safely!)
People buy products because they are promoted by the sellers.
Sex is being promoted everywhere! Wherever you go, sex is selling everything from cars to computers. Sex is cool, and the younger you are when you have sex, the cooler - so what can we expect?
Stop promoting it, there's a start.
We have a law in the UK that says it is illegal for youngsters under the age of 16 to have sex - why are we not using this law?
I think teen pregnancy has it's roots in poverty and until that cycle of poverty is broken the cycle of teen pregnancies will continue. There ought to be opportunities for all not just a few and often in the UK that means the ruling classes. Taking away benefits or housing these girls in hostels only means one thing - a hard life for the children they bear, which sadly means that the state is then punishing children who are very much victims in a sad tale. Ambition and hope these days is about style over substance and the media should shoulder some of the blame. Teenagers dream more of having top of the range consumer products than of being anything in life. Sex is being used to sell almost everything and it's on TV all day everyday.
James Turner, UK
Communication is the key! Let's talk and LISTEN to our children
I can't believe there are people out there who still believe that the answer is "no sex before marriage" and have the gall to call it the moral answer! Is it moral to ask teenagers to suppress their most basic instinct until MARRIAGE? Maybe it worked in the days when people got married at the age of 17 but these days people (quite rightly) often want to leave it until they are in their late twenties. OK promiscuity is a bad thing, but so is only having sex with 1 person in your entire life. Contraception is the key, not outdated unnatural Victorian attitudes.
Firstly it needs to be pointed out that if someone is 16 or over it's their decision to have a baby if that's what they want, no law is broken.
More importantly you live in cloud-cuckoo-land if you think kids
have babies 'for the money' and all those lovely fringe benefits.
The growing rate of births to very young mothers requires society to reflect
on why these young kids want to abdicate control over their future in
favour of controlling the lives of their offspring.
I guess there will always be an element of under age sex and drunkenness, but giving more credit (financial) with bigger tax breaks and positive government support to the family unit may just encourage borderline families to support children through difficult teenage years and "get a life, and see life" before being tied down with family responsibility too early.
The Government could try removing the notion that teenage sex is 'bad' and face the facts. Teenagers ARE going to have underage sex, and you can't stop it, or teenage sex in general. Instead, warn them of the consequences and how they can prevent them, improve access to contraception and remove this idea that asking for contraception is wrong. Because it's not.
Send an attractive, intelligent woman in her early 20's to talk to schoolgirls. She can then tell them exactly how bad teenage boys are in bed. That should do it!
I think there are 2 key issues at the root of the teenage pregnancy problem. The first is education. Being told at 14-15 is not good enough! Half of them are already having sex and will ridicule any sort of sex education. The whole concept of sex (within a loving, caring relationship) needs to be explored more than the mechanics. Teachers should also be given education on how to bring the subject into the classroom as sex education and talk of contraception horribly embarrasses most.
I think most people are missing the point of this scheme. It is not aimed at preventing this generation of young girls from getting pregnant; rather it is designed to stop their children doing the same. If young single mothers can get an education and hopefully get a good job, perhaps it will stop the cycle of the children of teenage mothers, becoming teenage mothers themselves!
Call me a cynic, but these women are
typically the sort who aren't interested in
education or training. Rather than be offered
the choice they should be forced in the hope
they'll one day learn to pay their way.
Free child care would certainly help more girls continuing their education, but it is also going to be an encouragement for those who so far avoided becoming pregnant. This facility is not going to reduce teen pregnancy. This is an unsolvable problem. We cannot keep teenagers any longer from having sex. It is going to be worse in future. We cannot go back to eighteenth century either. However; if science could invent a temporary contraception for 6 or 7 years (until the student completes her education) and then make it compulsory for every teenage girl in school to have it, that might be a solution to the problem.
I think maybe the likes of the Dutch and the Danes have the answer. Expose everyone to explicit sexual images at every turn and the kids will be bored with it in no time.
It's notorious that the one sure-fire way to get a teenager to do something is to tell them they're too young to do that thing.
Helen Savage, UK
How can the Government think this will not encourage teenage pregnancies, when it does in fact make it look more attractive.
Free house, free income, free education, free training, oh, and a baby or two. Sorted.
Jane, Wales, UK
Unfortunately my country, the U.S.A. has led the way in children having children. I am a moderate conservative and was always annoyed that the government never went after the fathers of these children. After years of debates the truth of the matter was that many teenage girls have been in relationships with older men. Even if the father is only a teenager he should be forced to meet his obligations with payments to the government (taxpayer) when he becomes independent.
I also think the mass media once again has encouraged this type of behaviour. In the last decades they promoted drugs, alcohol, tobacco while making jest of traditional Judeo-Christian values. I think all able bodied people who receive benefits from the state should be required to work for them. Why should our societies reward negative behaviour with welfare benefits and punish productive and responsible people with ever increasing taxes? I would have thought that the Aids epidemic would have instilled a sense of individual responsibility by this time, but I am apparently wrong.
How about sending round to schools a young person who can talk to the classes who has a good job so she can buy nice clothes, have great holidays, a sports car and money in the bank. Then send in a teenage mother with nothing. The girls at the school can then make up there minds which they would prefer when the leave.
I do agree that there is a huge problem for young people who see their only prospects as getting a job on or close to the minimum wage, and with high property prices throughout most of the UK little chance of their gaining independence (or in some cases escaping an unhappy home life). The way to prevent some of them seeking an escape through early pregnancy is education - both in the sense of making clear the consequences of unprotected sex (including the risk of health problems, which may be more influential), and in the sense that while most of us start our working lives at the bottom rung of a tall ladder, if you persevere and study doors will open.
I speak with some experience on the latter point, having had a son at 22. Even this age was really too young for parenthood, as it restricts what one can do and hurts financially. Now in my early 30s, I am still married to my son's mother, and now I have a well-paid and successful career. However, it would have been much easier had I/we thought things through and planned more carefully!
I also agree that restricting a person's access to social housing until the age of say 20 or even older would help - sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind!
Ken Beach, Germany
We have a prevailing view in our country at the moment that hedonism is the best way to live. Sex, drink and drugs are seen as the only way to enjoy life to the full. When we get enough people to wake up and realise that there is so much more to life than these things then perhaps our teenagers and children will to.
A quick point for Dutch Jim - he says we should "forget the teachings of the RC church" - surely the point is that people have already forgotten the teachings of all the churches in this supposedly Christian country - that sex is supposed to be between two married people. I realise that the world is not perfect, and that this is rarely the case nowadays, but if people like Jim continue to focus on the symptoms of the problem (unwanted pregnancies), rather than the cause (i.e. people having sex who have no intention of remaining together), then we will never return to the days when pregnancy was greeted with celebration rather than disappointment.
Lets remember that these girls made their own choices - they became pregnant of their own accord whether through choosing not to use a contraceptive when choosing to have sex or, choosing not to use their oral contraceptive properly. In this day and age, ignorance is not a defence. It infuriates me that somehow, the Government once again finds pots of money to throw at people who have made a life-choice!
Having studied hard, worked in a good job and married my husband (who I have been with since I was 15), I now choose to have a baby - and having paid my NI contributions since starting work (as many other women do), the Government provides us with £60 per week whilst we take 18 weeks off to have our babies.
The signal they're giving off is don't bother working - have a baby whenever you want and we'll still allow you to finish your studies, we'll look after your babies and we'll pay you for the privilege.
I'm sorry to say that sex education does not come from parents or school, teenagers are more likely to listen and learn from soap operas and sit coms! We live in a society that finds it difficult to differentiate between love, affection and sex. For a teenager this must be very confusing, especially when watching programmes like "Sex in the City' which portray four beautiful, successful and self-assured women looking for love but being promiscuous along the way. All in all, a bit of a paradox and not a single "safe sex" message to behold.
Tony B, England
I fear this will make the problem worse.
In deprived areas, pregnancy is often
the only ticket available to
independence, with income support
and a jump up the housing queue. It
needs replacing with another escape
route - perhaps a civilian national
service which youngsters can look
forward to, and where they learn
essentials such as flood defences,
clearing leaves from lines and driving
on ice - as well as an apprenticeship.
Some schools don't seem to want teenage mothers to return to education in case they send the message to other pupils that it's ok to have a child so young. If they were exposed to the real difficulties and struggles that a teenage mum has to face, it might be more of an incentive to leave sex for later. Education shouldn't be about tiptoeing round the subject, it should be realistic. But educating those who have already made their mistakes is a positive step, because hopefully they will encourage their children to wait until they are more settled.
This is not aimed purely at teenage mothers but to people in general that are given chance after chance. I was the type of person who worked at school and college. Then I took a couple of years out before heading back to university and it's costing me a fortune. I borrow money from the Government and I have to work part-time through university all through being careful and respectful. It seems the Government wants to help all those who didn't make an effort and push those who don't deserve it (as far as I'm concerned), into doing well for themselves.
The father should be given custody of the child. This would mean:
(a) The woman would have all pain and no gain (i.e. no cute little baby to boost her ego or for a free meal ticket) and would therefore not do it;
The current system panders to both of their whims - hers the 'cute little baby' free meal ticket (and all the PC sympathy), his the fun, the kudos, and no responsibility.
As usual though, the Labour Government throws other people's money at the problem instead of implementing the correct process - it's more community spirited that way, old boy.
Tony Mountfield, England
I agree that education is important. Not only should children be educated but their parents along with them. However, unlike one of the previous comments I wouldn't blame Catholicism for encouraging ignorance. If teenagers really did listen to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church they wouldn't be having sex before marriage in the first place!
How can this possibly reduce teenage pregnancy rates? Just don't give them any benefits in the first place. Hold their parents responsible for their sex education and force their parents to support them if they allow themselves to get pregnant.
If contraception were the norm, both readily available and free, then there would be no excuse for unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. Because this issue so adversely affects girls, personally, economically and emotionally, it should be addressed as both a social issue and a health issue, one which will affect them for the rest of their lives. Also, the fathers should be identified and they, or their families, should be forces to pay some sort of support.
As Jim from the Netherlands says "contraception works" so bring this out of the closet and into the open - let children grow up accepting things like condoms as part of normal life and not something to be sniggered at behind closed doors. This country is so prudish it is an embarrassment!
Having been exposed to young children and babies from a young age (my mother was a childminder) I can say with some conviction that I am happy to be a much older mother. Babies are incredibly hard work, demanding in time and attention, a massive responsibility and expensive. Why not give teenagers the opportunity to experience life first hand with a new born baby (using a simulated doll) to highlight the realities of parenthood.
Why is it always the girls' fault? We have to start making the fathers - and their families - jointly responsible for parenting and explain to teenage boys that unprotected sex has consequences for them too. And lots of videos of painful childbirth should help to quell classroom lust.
Condoms should me more accessible
to everyone. Having to go and see a
nurse and fill in a form to get free
condoms is not the answer.
I myself, a 33 year old, feel embarrassed
by doing this. Imagine how a teenager would
The problem is not so much lack of education, but the wrong focus of education. For example many girls still believe that if they ask their GP for contraceptives or the morning after pill, then their doctor will inform the girls parents. We should look at what exactly is taught in sex education, and at what age.
"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!" (Bumper sticker over here).
The education should come before they reach pregnancy! Why?
1) As I understand it, there are still many teenagers, male and female, who don't understand the truth about the mechanics of becoming pregnant. Encouraging girls in particular to be more assertive in saying no until they feel ready would be a good start, to break away from peer pressure "to do it".
2) Many apparently have the ill-founded perception that you are much better off when you have a baby. We should be telling teenagers to get a life and career first and leave the parenthood thing as late as possible!
The idea is "right on the beam". There should be a disincentive to getting pregnant under age and thereafter living off the taxpayer. The benefits system previously actually encouraged underage sex and pregnancy. The only problem is that the proposed system may tend to encourage abandonment of unwanted children and hence alienation, but the children may benefit from separation from a mother who does not want them apart from as a meal ticket, if this is the case.
Here in the Netherlands, we have a lower age of consent than in Britain. But sex education begins at a much earlier age. Yet the country has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in the whole of Europe.
Surely Britain must see that early sex education is the key. Britain must rid itself of its Victorian ideology!!
Whilst it is important to help teenage mothers, surely it would be prudent to reduce the number of teenagers who become pregnant.
The three keys are education, education and education. Forget the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Contraception works, and with education will
reduce the number of pregnant teenagers and subsequently lower the abortion rate.
22 Feb 01 | Education
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05 Dec 00 | Health
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