- Calls from girls as young as 10 who are
worried that they might be pregnant are now commonplace at Childline, a
new report from the charity revealed today.
- More 14 and 15-year-old girls telephone
the young persons' helpline about unplanned pregnancy than any other issue.
- An estimated 55 per cent of the girls
who called when the report was being researched were pregnant, while others
feared they might be. The vast majority had had unprotected sex even though
they knew it could lead to pregnancy.
- "In the main, young people's early
sexual experiences do not seem to be planned or even explicitly chosen,"
said the report's author, Gill Kemp. "Peer pressure and pressure from
boyfriends, too much alcohol and sheer opportunity all play a part. Children
as young as 12 are having sexual relationships, often unplanned or secretly,
sometimes as part of a longer term relationship.
- "Young people generally knew about
the facts of life and contraception, but they do not seem to have put their
knowledge into practice."
- The report, prepared at the request of
the Government's Social Exclusion Unit, found that the problem of unplanned
teenage preg-nancy was not confined to those from broken
- homes and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Sixty per cent of the 7,751 calls about pregnancy received last year were
from children living with both their birth parents. Less than five per
cent had been sexually abused and less than one per cent were in care.
- "This is a middle-class problem,"
said Mary MacLeod, director of policy and research at Childline. "Britain
has the highest rate of teenage preg-nancy in Europe and children here
are having their first sexual experience at a younger and younger age.
The majority now lose their virginity well before their 16th birthday.
- "British teenagers have sex younger
and as a result more carelessly than elsewhere. The problem is that at
such a young age they are simply not equipped to have the kind of adult
conversation about contraception that is so vital to avoid unwanted pregnancies."
Britain has a pregnancy rate of 30 in every 1,000 girls between the ages
of 15 and 19. In France the rate is seven per 1,000 and in the Netherlands
it is four in every 1,000.
- Unlike the Netherlands where sex education
is provided in primary schools and condoms are freely available, contraceptive
advice is not reaching British teenagers effectively or early enough. "Young
people are slipping through the net of advice and help offered by sex education
and information programmes," said Gill Kemp. "In general, girls
are not taking responsibility for contraception which means they are dependent
on the boyfriends' decisions."
- Despite the bleak picture painted by
those girls who chose to become teenage mothers and found themselves isolated,
living in poverty and barely able to cope, a surprisingly large number
of 13 to 15-year-olds told counsellors that they wanted to keep their babies.
- Less than five per cent of callers felt
able to confide in their parents and many reported being thrown out of
even stable homes once they did. Most were abandoned by the father of their
child and some were forced to live rough. Childline wants better confidential
advice and support for young people, especially from their parents.