The sound of screaming in the early hours of the morning for most students is that of clubbers returning home from a big night out. For some teenagers though, this sound represents the reality of teenage pregnancy and the great responsibility that accompanies it. Recently released government statistics for 2007 reveal that the total live births for those aged under 20 years old is 44.8 per thousand births. Despite this large number, it is clear to see the vastly differing views in terms of its acceptability in today’s society.

The highest recorded statistic for the under 20s age group in terms of pregnancies was actually in 1966 where it was 86.7 per thousand. This is almost double that of 2007. So why do some people find it so shocking that young women are having children? Perhaps it is the result of renewed social expectations of women in terms of higher education and career, making it now more acceptable and even the norm that women choose to pursue work, delaying having their family until later in life. The lifestyle choice of the majority of university students and graduates is to concentrate upon their individual interests and career choice before settling down with a family and greater commitments. This is not surprising as each student has dedicated a lot of their time and money into their degrees and all need a way to pay off the accumulated debts of three years of study.

The great difference is that school-leavers who do not go on to study further education usually begin work at 16 and so by the time they reach 18-19 years old, they may feel more ready to have a child. Perhaps this choice is stigmatised due to the very low number of these young people who are married; only 4400 of the 106,100 under twenties were married according to the 2007 statistics. This could raise questions about the level of stability that these young couples could provide without the strong union of marriage. However, surely the main focus in this situation should be whether the parent, whatever age they may be, can provide the child with a safe and loving environment, whether they are a single parent or with a partner.

Perhaps a more legitimate concern regarding young pregnancy should really be the amount of teenagers who are just or below the age of consent that are giving birth whilst still at school. They are unable to provide financially for themselves, let alone a child. David Cameron was quoted saying “children are having children” in light of the story of Alfie Patten, the 13-year-old dad recently thrust into the spotlight after his 15-year-old girlfriend gave birth. Furthering this, the BBC broadcast the documentary “Teen Mum High” featuring girls’ aged thirteen to sixteen who were pregnant or had recently given birth. The extensive media coverage expresses the genuine shock the nation feels about these individual cases though it is worth noting that these types of births are a minority, but one that is steadily increasing. The under-sixteen conception rate in England and Wales (girls’ aged thirteen to fifteen) has risen from 7.8 per thousand girls in 2006 to 8.3 in 2007. These figures have led the Government to plunge £20.5 million into further educating teens about the risks of unprotected sex in schools and colleges, a media campaign to highlight the different forms of contraception available as well as providing greater access to contraception. But is this too little, too late in terms of the gym slip mums who are already responsible for their baby’s life before their own has really even begun?

Fiona Stockdale

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