A government minister has appealed to families to help tackle the UK's high teenage pregnancy rate.
Beverley Hughes told the Guardian newspaper that parents needed to put aside any embarrassment and start talking to their children about sex.
Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe and the government has pledged to halve the rate by 2010.
What action should be taken to reduce the number of teen pregnancies?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
People do seem to miss the fact that this is a perfectly natural thing for young women's bodies to do, and also that young women stuck in rubbish lives with no hope often want children. What is needed is support for mothers whatever their age or marital status, and better quality of life for the poorest of the country so that there is another alternative to getting a meaning in your life other than having a child.
How can teen pregnancies be reduced? Simple: Just do what we did in the fifties when my own hormones began raging - boys, keep it zipped; girls, keep your legs together.
Mal, Manchester, England
As my wife is a high school teacher in a poor part of this city, I know first hand that these kids who get pregnant early do not even consider getting a job. Why, when they can get all the benefits? Their parents have never worked either. No career, no worries of future, no reason not to get pregnant. As simple at that.
Jan, Edinburgh, UK
Unfortunately, if the children are not receptive to advice then sex education from teachers or parents will either be ignored or worse, actively rebelled against. Peer led education appears to be a possible solution here - teenager mothers telling it as it is as well as trained, but still teenage, educators spreading the message in a way that is more likely to be heard. But, also, why is sex education compulsory at school but any lessons on actual parenting not? There's nothing better than making it part of the curriculum for making teens decide they don't want it!
Simon Spiro, Cambridge, UK
As a teacher with responsibility for Citizenship/PSHE, which includes SRE, the recent report concerning the level of teen pregnancies comes as no great surprise, in view of the difficulty my school and I have had in persuading the local PCT to support a programme which is well respected, both by health professionals and many in education - namely the APAUSE programme. (Added Power And Understanding in Sex Education). You will understand, then, our frustration when the local PCT proposed to remove the funding for this programme on the grounds of cost. We in schools are doing our best, but we are not being helped in this when those who should be enabling such initiatives instead seem bent on frustrating them.
I believe the only way teen pregnancies can be reduced is to teach Biblical principals to students. Sexual abstinence programs (True Love Waits), that sex once married is worth more than when one is not married, and that God created sex for enjoyment in the setting of a married couple. Also that parents teach and talk to their children about the issues of sex openly.
Amy Walters, Berlin, Germany
I had my first child at 19 only because my sheltered Catholic upbringing totally omitted any advice about contraception. Being a young unmarried mum is NOT an ideal way of life, and I very much regretted what happened to me. I'm sure a lot of teen mums today feel exactly the same.
Caroline, Cambridge, England
I have an "American" suggestion: Make a "Reality Television" show revealing the suffering of teen parents and their children. Consider including episodes that reveal the causes, i.e. drunken parties, peer pressure, et al. Because many parents don't feel comfortable talking about these issues with their children, society needs someone to do so!
David Stephen Ball-Romney, Seattle, USA
In my job I see many young girls 15 - 20 who are single parents through their own choice as its the easiest way to be able to leave home, get their own place and have money to live on without having to think about getting work. It's hard for 16/17 year old to find work when they leave school and getting into college can be even harder - many just don't try so parenthood is a very easy option - many have been brought up by parents with the same attitude who don't even try to get jobs when their children have grown up and often still use the excuse they are looking after their families. Only a change to the way benefits are paid in this country can change this ever growing trend.
Joy, St Andrews
People who propose benefit cuts must come from another planet. Teenagers don't even think about future consequences so it will have no deterrent effect whatsoever. Benefit cuts will simply ensure that the baby is raised in deeper poverty.
Peter Nelson, Boston USA
Given politicians' propensity for colourful sex lives, you would think they might be less fond of lecturing the rest of us on the subject of personal morality.
Patrick Matthews, London
Treat all cases of under-16 pregnancy as proof of child-abuse/rape - track down the male involved and prosecute them. The parents of the girl who gets pregnant should also be prosecuted for both child-abuse and neglect, as they're clearly not taking their responsibilities seriously.
Dave Moran, Nr. Aberdeen, Scotland.
This Government has followed previous governments in depriving parents of rights over their children's behaviour and now has the nerve to pass the buck to them because it belatedly realises it has a problem but does not know how to tackle it. This Government, like those before it, has all the lost dignity of a Pushmi-Pullyu. It makes laws and then ignores them. They undermine family life and then, when they begin to reap the whirlwind, blame parents. Until the government restores to parents the rights they have taken away from parents, then do not expect them to shoulder the linked responsibilities. When the Government is ready to allow parents to be parents, and actively support them, we will listen to you. Until then, the government's comments represent mere buck-passing.
Adrian Martin, father of 4, Birmingham, UK
It's bigger picture stuff really...we have to train to do anything these days, except for the most difficult job of them all - parenting. If parents were given the guidance they need (but don't necessarily want) to bring up children with discipline, respect and a sense of responsibility, a whole host of social evils would disappear.
Nick Bowman, Brighton
Parents must accept responsibility for their children's sexual welfare, the buck stops only with them. Benefits must reflect the true cost of bringing up children. I know too many people on benefits who would earn less for working hard. If life weren't so luxurious on benefits, pregnancy might not look so attractive to teens.
Sally Holmwood, Sussex, England
All the focus seems to be on girls - it does take two. However much people are taught, at home or school, if they want to do something they will. Often it happens because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are in love. And let's be honest, "just say no" is hardly practical advice! Maybe abstinence, despite society's negative view of it, is the answer; less STDs, less teenage and unwanted pregnancies. There needs to be help in these sorts of situations, not just "don't have sex" or "have some contraceptives". Real, practical advice, and it is considered to have a religious overtone, abstinence seems to be the only sensible solution.
I feel sure that teenage pregnancies would be reduced as a natural result of more people practicing using the word no. This practice could also help reduce teenage drinking, teenage drug-taking etc.
Rita Kleppmann, Essingen, Germany
I am sure that if the numerous benefits and advantages such as getting a council flat (whilst most youngsters cannot afford to buy these days),were withdrawn, and the teenagers own parents had to support them, many teenage girls would think twice before getting pregnant. When will the government finally realise this? Unfortunately there are too many do-gooders these days and too much political correctness!
Jane, Braintree, Essex
I think we are all missing the obvious here. Teens have babies because humans are designed for it. Not long ago, teen years were considered ideal marriage years. You don't need have fertility clinics and lab science to get pregnant at age 15. It is in our biological programming. No matter how strong the religion and cultural dictates, they are no match against nature.
John Murray, Texas, USA
This government has spent eight years undermining parents, so it cannot now turn round and bat the problem of teenage pregnancies back to them!
Tom MacFarlane, Blackpool, UK
These ridiculous comments about "feckless girls" working the system and reduction of benefits curbing teen pregnancies. It is nothing to with money. Until we acknowledge and understand the reasons why teen boys and girls engage in sexual activity, we cannot solve the problem. Boys typically have different reasons than girls for engaging in sexual activity. Boys are more hormonally driven whilst girls are typically more emotionally driven at this age. Address these issues and the teen pregnancy rates will reduce themselves. It all starts with the parents and a good home environment and sex education should be only supplementary.
How about compulsory contraception at puberty, coupled with testing for suitability for parenthood? It would stop those who don't want kids having them, and would ensure only people who properly understand the responsibilities of parenthood have children. The country would benefit long term, and everyone would be happier.
Matt, St Albans
Just like the yobbery and thuggery problem, teenage pregnancies are a result of our cultural society. Parents should be more involved in their kids' lives, and there should be better education from schools, from GPs and local communities. This situation has happened because we allowed it to. It's time to bring back stronger family values and I agree with one comment, start prosecuting those who have under age sex.
Eran, Merthyr, Wales
I'm not against teenagers having babies, i just don't think my taxes should support them. Maybe taking away the "benefits" would make them think twice.
Parents need to take responsibility and not rely on others when it comes to talking about sex with their children. We need to realise that in this day and age many young people under the age of 16 already know about sex, we just need to tell them the pros and cons of having sex.
Jason Rice, Crawley, Sussex, UK
It's not always those of poorer backgrounds. The issue tends to be more a matter of less supported (from parents etc) backgrounds. Money has little to do with it. Teenagers of both sexes need to be put in situations so they thoroughly understand the burden of responsibility with children - and a fairly tough situation at that. It would be most effective if a great incentive was put in place to bear the responsibility for a few weeks.
Danny, London, UK
What is all this rubbish the government come out with about needing to improve sex education? Do they really think teenage girls don't know that if you have unprotected sex you get pregnant? The problem is the government offer these young girls incentives to get pregnant like housing and benefits - a much easier option than going out and earning a living! There should be hostels for girls who have babies to live in instead of giving them their own housing - we'd soon see teenage pregnancy rates drop then!
Lisa, Gillingham, Kent
Telling your children that "sex is bad " will not do the job. It's about informing them and teaching them about the topic as if they were a newborn adult. Note that no matter what you say, your kids will do what they want, but if they understand sex as well as any adult does, hopefully they can make the right choice.
Parents should be made to look after them in their own home, which may encourage fewer people to get pregnant in the first place. Most of them want a place to live away from their parents, so they get pregnant
Gail, Cannock, UK
A number of comments seem to be suggesting girls deliberately become pregnant for personal gain. Maybe we should ask ourselves what is it about the opportunities for young people of poorer backgrounds in this country that having a baby at 15 is seen as such an attractive option.
Elaine, Newcastle, UK
Elaine, Newcastle, UK: What opportunities? They have received free schooling, if anything awful happened to them until 16 the state would take care of them, most of them have families to financially support them and don't have to work whilst studying, their families provide a safety net and support network, they have a clear path to career success laid out by a mass of further qualifications, and if they can't find work to support themselves they're allowed to take the earnings of others via benefits. How come children in countries that have none of this don't go around getting pregnant like this? It's because they never have to face up to the consequences of their actions, and their parents are too soft, that they get in this mess. Don't blame society - they have it all on a plate.
Nat, London, UK
When I was a teenager it was considered shameful falling pregnant when not married or being in a steady relationship! I'm glad things have moved on from there, but something needs to be done. Either more teenagers are having sex more often or they have not taken on board about using contraception. I think that they should all have some sort of lessons about how hard it is looking after a young child. I had my son when I was 41 and what a shock it was to me!! I can't understand why these young girls want to get pregnant, they should be out enjoying themselves and building a life for themselves!
Liz Hannaby, Watford, UK
I think the benefits system needs to be changed so that parents are responsible for grandchildren conceived by underage daughters. Unless there are any penalties in the system nothing will change. It may sound harsh, but the current system is obviously not working so it's time for real measures. A free flat and benefits is no deterrent to anyone, the thought of taking on an extra job and scrimping and scraping might be.
The way to stop these schoolgirls having babies is to make teenage pregnancy less attractive by making benefits payable to over 16s only. If they had to pay for the babies themselves it might encourage them to use contraceptives. There are too many of these feckless girls working the system.
Maybe people having underage sex should actually be prosecuted? It's all well and good having a law but if it's not enforced there's not point in having it.
Ben, Thornbury, Bristol
Apart from the young girls wearing a chastity belt as a means of reducing pregnancies, we need to involve the young men has well. It does take two after all. There seems to be too much focus on the girls being the guilty party.
Bumble, Dartford, Kent
When I was a young teenager I went clubbing, hung around boys my own age and older and drank alcohol. The reason I am now successful is down to two things: the fact that I wanted a career and the fact that my parents taught me about contraception at the age of 13 and the importance of using it. I went on the Pill at 15 and am now a high-rate taxpayer as a result!
Tanya, Woking, Surrey
The main reason there are so many teen pregnancies is that the parents do not teach discipline, responsibility and accountability. It is useless parents blaming school and the government, when they should be taking the lead. What is wrong with the parents taking a moral lead and encouraging teens to say "No"? Both parents and teens have only one person to blame - themselves.
James de Jode, Oxon
Start enforcing the existing law with realistic deterrent sentences and begin prosecutions for the under age sex. Stop ignoring that this law exists.
Cratchley, Poole, Dorset
An urgent restructuring of the benefits system in the UK so that the overly generous income payments, provision of accommodation and so forth are simply unavailable should see a sharp drop in teenaged pregnancies. It's obvious appealing to teenagers on a moral basis is a waste of time but they will understand the need to avoid pregnancy if no money will be there to assist them.
Compulsory lessons on parenting would be a good start.
Teenage pregnancies are, unfortunately a fact of life nowadays. I don't think we can reduce them unless the entire country stands up and says 'we need to stop'. And I don't see that happening. Too many people know how to work the system to their advantage.
Annoyed taxpayer, England
The approach to sex education needs to be changed completely. Kids are being told "Don't do this it's bad". This is not the way to get through to them. Treat them with some maturity and respect, lay out the facts and then discuss it. Teenagers are not going to stop having sex so education and frank discussion is the only way forward.
Stephen Mortimer, Reading, UK
Why can't all teenage girls, when they reach puberty be given some kind of contraceptive implant that would prevent them from getting pregnant until they are at least 16 years old. Never mind their 'human rights', this country has a serious problem and only drastic measures will do.
Quite right! After all, the primary responsibility for all children's behaviour in all areas lies with their parents. That woman blaming sex education at school for her three daughters 12, 14 and 16 being pregnant is a disgrace, and it makes a change that the government is addressing this rather than coming out with another nannying initiative (no pun intended!).
Craig, Stirling, UK