British 10 Year-Olds Who
Fear They're Pregnant
By Molly Watson
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.