Teenage pregnancies occur across the globe for various reasons. Britain is not gripped in an epidemic of teenage pregnancy as most of the population seems to think, but it is an issue that we need to tackle. I raise this as I come across it daily in my working life. With teenage pregnancy is attached social stigma and this often results in poor life outcomes for all involved.
The irony is that it is these same poor life outcomes that give rise to this situation in the first place. Poverty is the most obvious indicator for a teenage pregnancy. With poverty come low educational expectations. A girl is also more likely to become a teenage parent if her mother or older sister gave birth in her teens.
Women exposed to abuse and domestic violence in childhood are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers. Sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence in some teen relationships result in low self-esteem and unplanned pregnancies.
Fostered children are more likely than their peers to become pregnant as teenagers. Peer pressure, drug and alcohol abuse contribute to young people having sex when they are not ready.
Society still has a lot of myth-busting to do. How can we do this, when I hear a professional, someone who works with young teenage girls, say that they only do it to get a council house; what utter nonsense is that? There is little evidence to support the common belief that teenage mothers become pregnant to get benefits, welfare and council housing. Most know little about housing or financial aid before they get pregnant and what they think they know often turns out to be wrong.
Good sex and relationship education starting in primary school is the key to effectively reducing the number of teenage pregnancies. It is complete rubbish to say that this will encourage youngsters to have more sex. Teenagers are going to have sex, and society needs to ensure that it is safe and informed sex. Education and services need to be planned and delivered in a way that improves access. I still see clinics where a 30-something suited-and-booted woman is sitting alongside a 14-year-old along some corridor in a dark and dingy clinic. If, this 14-year-old returns to the clinic it will be a miracle. Sex education in schools is archaic; teenagers laugh their way through it just as they did when I was experiencing this awful embarrassment at school.
A lot of teens are already using contraception, but they may use condoms incorrectly or forget to take a pill. Long-term reversible methods of contraception such as the implant or the coil may help fight this but how many of us get offered the choice? We ask for the pill when we mean contraception. The GP gives us a script for that pill and we walk away as always. We need to promote more informed choice for all women regardless of age.
The Government is tackling this but I fear what might happen if there were to be a change of power. Labour is the only party that can solve the social inequalities that continue to exist for some of our youngest and most vulnerable women, even in 2009.