Teen pregnancy is defined as a pregnancy of a girl below the age of 20 years when the child is born, irrespective of whether the girl is married or a legal adult. However, in common parlance, the term is usually used to refer to an unmarried minor who became pregnant by accident or unintentionally.
Teen pregnancy poses a medical and emotional concern for the young girl in question. Medical risks obviously remain but apart from that there are additional risks often associated with socioeconomic factors.
The purpose of this journal is to delve into the reasons and understand why a developed country like the United Kingdom has one of the highest cases of Teen Pregnancy, what are the risks it poses to young girls and what are the policies and steps the government has taken to curtail the rate.
I chose this topic as it is an alarming rate. We usually suspect lesser developed or under developed third world nations to suffer from this problem and not associate it with an OECD developed country. This is a cause for concern and I wanted to understand it at the heart of it.
Teenage pregnancy has been on the rise in the United Kingdom in the early 1990's. While the government had been taking measures through medical professionals and community interest groups to lower the rate down, it wasn't of much help since the reason for the high rate is not entirely certain. Whether it is by choice or by accident, the young girl needs to be given a thorough counseling so that she is able to decide better of her future.
How does teen pregnancy occur?
Researches have shown that most teenage pregnancies are unplanned. Broken condoms, incorrect contraceptive measures by way of pills, late withdrawal and completely unprotected sex in an act of rush and excitement are the main reasons behind it.
Seeing the alarming rate at which the teenage pregnancies were rising in the UK in 1999, the government pledged to reduce the percentage by a half in 2010. Since then, we have seen a fall in the rate of teenage pregnancies. 41,325 women under the age of 18 became pregnant in 2008, a drop of 3.9% from 42,988 women in 2007. In 2010 the number of teenage pregnancies in UK and Wales fell by 4% over previous year*.
The graph below the rate of fall pregnancies in UK:
Reasons for a high teenage pregnancy rate in UK
David Cameron has said that in general in the United Kingdom and Europe, family values and cultures of a knitted family has come down and there is high independency level in individuals. Being a single parent has almost become a fashion. These reasons are believed to be one of the main contributing factors towards teenage pregnancy. Additionally, the children today are exposed to a world of 'sexploitation' through TV, internet and even games. We even see advertising of products erstwhile meant for older audiences, being aimed at a much younger target audience. With the burst and growth in the internet, suddenly teenagers were exposed to a lot of adult material being made freely available and without any adult supervision.
The UK government in their 1999 report identified that there exists 5 main factors behind these pregnancies:
family structure and inter-family relationships
expectations of the future
other risk behaviours
sexual health knowledge
Peer pressure and norms are a high cause for teenage pregnancy. Teenage are drawn to truant to please and gain acceptance in their peer groups. Alcohol and being born out of a teenage mother also leaves its lasting effect on a child and make them follow in their footsteps. World over we know that socioeconomic disadvantage and low educations levels among girls are also a cause of teenage pregnancy. A girl from a well-off family going to a private school is less likely to fall pregnant.
In addition to all of the above, the curriculum for sex education in UK needs a serious review. The curriculum is just a presentation of a number of facts with no deep dive into understanding emotions. For example, all children from the age of five learn about body parts and animal reproduction, puberty and intercourse from the age of seven and pregnancy, contraception and safer sex from the age of 11 when they have transferred to secondary school. It is just another biology class! Where do children learn the meaning of relationships and that sex is a transition of a healthy relationship and not something one jumps into out of curiosity.
Measures taken by the government
The UK government is doing its bit to reduce teenage pregnancy. The ministers announced an additional 20.5 pounds over and above of the 260 pound allocated in 2009, as a funding package for contraception resources. Still, however the pledge of halving the figures of 1999 were too ambitious and not met in 2010.
Additionally, a legislation has also been passed that makes sex education compulsorily to be taught in faith schools. However, an amendment to the Children, Schools and Families bill means that these schools will be taught lessons of personal, social, health and economics "in a way that reflects the school's religious character". Also, the government has pledged to ensure that contraceptive devices and health services relating to sex would be made easily available and accessible to all teenagers.
As per me, I also feel that apart from making these contraception and sex health services and facilities available the government also needs to ensure that 'relationship education' is important to be taught in schools and communities. Before indulging in sex, the students need to understand the meaning of relationships and how to build and preserve them. Parents and teachers need to build this sense in the children.
Learnings from other countries on how they tackled the problem
In 2009, Hollands teenage pregnancy rate was one-fifth of that of UK- it had only 5 births per 1000 as compared to 27 of the UK. Holland also boasted of the lowest rate of abortion. Holland, however has a different approach to sex education. While sex can be discussed in forums, more emphasis during these discussions is given to relationships and caring and respect for others. That is in contrast to the United Kingdom, where they are squirmish and shy to talk about sex openly. Children today have a mind of their own. You can't tell or order them with just a yes or no, but they need to be told why they are being said a 'yes' or a 'no'.
Options available for pregnant teens
Pregnant teens in the UK have a lot of options available to her which can help her get proper medical attention while giving birth to the child, raising the child and putting the child up for adoption to parents who are able and capable of taking good care of the child and even options of terminating the pregnancy by abortion. However in the Northern Ireland abortion are not available to girls and a young girl of 16 years and below can only have the option available if the child has parental consent and the doctors certify that she meets the Fraser guidelines which are as below:
She understands the medical professional's advice
She is competent to be in agreement with the treatment
She cannot be persuaded to inform her parents
It is in her best interest not to inform her parents of the procedure
But, the most important measure that is easily available to the girls is a healthy relationship with their mother. If girls can easily communicate and talk about their personal lives with their mothers, without the fear of retaliation in their early teens can be protective against pregnancy by age 16 years.
Effects of teen pregnancy and the need to curb it
Teenage pregnancies not only have a disturbing effect on the mothers, but more often than not it has a lasting effect on the child too. These children are more likely to grow up in poverty and deal with a lot of health related issues. Societal trauma is another problem. Society does not easily accept a child born out of marriage and the child has to deal with high rates of abuse and neglect, fail in schools and ultimately fall prey to the same mistake- become young, teenage mothers themselves. Research and studies in UK have shown that these children commit delinquent acts and involve themselves in adult crimes in trying to live with it. They are not able to sustain a healthy married relationship and do not ultimately prove to be good mothers or fathers. The teenage mother too has to live with a constant mental pressure. A young girl gets to have the added responsibility of taking care of a child. Dealing with her own growing up and on top of that being responsible for a baby too is too much of an asking from a young girl. Trying to deal with it both, it results in both the mother and the child suffering. Because teen mothers have lower levels of education than other women, they are unable to find themselves a well paying job which makes raising the child even more difficult and leads to the child and the mother become dependant on the government. This is a public health issue too. It has negative effects on perinatal outcomes and long-term morbidity. Teen pregnancy is a traumatic experience not only for the young girl, but for everyone involved.
Teen pregnancy is an unwanted, unwarranted for accident which only results in negative outcomes for the mother, child and the economy at large. While the rate of teen pregnancy has come down in the past few years, much has to be done about it to lower it further as it still remains as one of the top contributors to teen pregnancy worldwide.
In my opinion, at the heart and core of it all lies reinstating the faith and values in a healthy family system. Emphasis needs to be given to 'relationship education' instead of just 'sex education'. While medical facilities and contraception devices remain to be easily available, but first, the decision of the teenager to indulge in the act should be for the right reasons. If one can address that, then a proper informed decision automatically leads to an informed behaviour.
We do not expect kids to behave like adults and be able to make all mature decisions, but we can support them and lend an listening ear to whatever's on their mind. Many psychological studies have shown that a healthy relationship between parents and daughters leads to less trauma during the difficult growing up years and make them less prone to becoming teenage mothers.
*Source: Office of National Statistics