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Increase in teenage pregnancies

The Guardian, UK, John Carvel, social affairs editor, November 12, 2004

The government's programme to cut the rate of teenage pregnancy has faltered, according to official figures yesterday showing an increase in conceptions in England among girls under 18.

he number of 16-year-olds becoming pregnant increased from 12,259 in 2001 to 12,672 in 2002. The number of 17-year-olds conceiving went up from 18,795 to 19,283 over the same period.

Although pregnancies among the under-16s fell slightly to 7,395 - the lowest level for 11 years - the overall result was disappointing for family planning organisations trying to bring British rates down to the European average.

Ministers set a goal to halve the pregnancy rate among 15-17-year-olds between 1998 and 2010.

Policies to improve teenagers' sex education and access to sexual health advice services appeared to be working as the conception rate tumbled from nearly 46.7 per 1,000 girls in 1998 to 42.5 per 1,000 in 2001.

But the provisional figures for 2002, published by the Office for National Statistics yesterday, showed the rate crept up in 2002 to 42.6. Just over half the pregnant teenagers gave birth, but most of those under-16 had abortions.

The Department for Education and Skills said the figures did not invalidate its programme, costing 138m over the six years to 2004-05.

"We have a 10-year strategy ... and we know it takes time to make the attitudinal and behavioural changes required," a spokeswoman said.

"This plateauing of under 18 conception rates reveals the need to redouble our efforts in the areas that record persistently high teenage pregnancy rates."

The department would develop a "hotspot strategy", concentrating its efforts on London boroughs and other areas with exceptionally high teenage pregnancy rates. The rate in Lambeth is 100.4 per 1,000 girls under 18, Southwark 86.0 and Nottingham 78.6.

Half the nation's pregnant teenagers live in 20% of local authority wards and these would be targeted by school nurses, teachers and other professionals, the DfES said.

Jan Barlow, chief executive of the sexual health advice organisation Brook, said: "Although today's figures show hardly any change in the teenage pregnancy rate between 2001 and 2002, we should welcome the fact that there was a slight decrease in the rates for under-16s, and that the overall trend in recent years is downwards."

Family Planning Association chief executive Anne Weyman welcomed the news that the under-16s pregnancy rate was at its lowest since 1993.

YWCA chief executive Gill Tishler said: "There were nearly twice as many teenage mums 30 years ago than there are today."

The ONS figures also showed growing numbers of women conceiving in their 30s and 40s and fewer in their 20s. The chances of a woman over 40 conceiving increased by 50% between 1990 and 2002.