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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK


Teen fathers on the rise

Teenage fathers will have their benefit docked from the age of 16

The Child Support Agency has about 2,000 teenage fathers on its books - but the boys are not required to pay maintenance until they turn 16.

South Yorkshire police are investigating a 14-year-old Sheffield boy whose 12-year-old girlfriend is three months' pregnant. The boy could be charged with rape because a girl of this age cannot legally consent to sex.

If she gives birth and keeps the baby, the boy will not be required to pay maintenance until his 16th birthday.

[ image: There are 2,000 teenage boys on Child Support Agency's books]
There are 2,000 teenage boys on Child Support Agency's books
A Child Support Agency spokesman told the BBC: "At that stage, they sort of grow into the responsibility and we actively and vigorously pursue them for maintenance.

"If they're unemployed, the agency seeks to reduce any benefit they are getting by £5.20 a week."

Britain has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Europe. In England and Wales, about 30 in every 10,000 teenage women give birth; twice that of Germany; three times that of France and six times the Dutch rate.

'Financial hardship'

About 90,000 British teenagers get pregnant each year - one-third of them under 16 - and many of the fathers are teenagers themselves.

Judith Corlyon, a senior researcher with the National Children's Bureau, said that in 1997 there were 10,000 new fathers aged under 20.

"In addition to that, about another 13,000 other mothers under 20 don't register details of the baby's father. You could safely assume that a proportion of those is going to be young fathers.

"The limited information we have on them suggests that they are more likely to come from families that have experienced financial hardship, to have low level of educational attainment and high levels of unemployment. Beyond that, we don't know much about them."

Sex lessons blamed

The 14-year-old boy and his girlfriend live in a run-down council estate, seven miles from the home of another 12-year-old who gave birth last week in the bathroom of her council house in Rotherham.

[ image: The Sheffield 14-year-old said he hated condoms]
The Sheffield 14-year-old said he hated condoms
He told the Daily Telegraph that he blamed explicit sex education lessons at school.

"It is the school's responsibility, showing us videos of men and women naked. After all, we are just children. We were told about how babies were made, but I was just interested in the sex part."

A spokesman for Sheffield Council said the sex education programmes emphasised moral considerations and the value of family life.

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