Britain’s failed teenage pregnancy strategy

New numbers from the UK suggest that their teen pregnancy rate, already the highest in the EU, is on the rise again among under 16s after some years of remaining steady.

This is despite the Labour Government spending 13 years and hundreds of millions of pounds in concerted effort to halve pregnancies among under-18s by this year. This is a strategy that finds favour with some of the ‘great and the good’ here, not least in the Law Reform Commission. But it is a miserable failure and emphatically should not be copied.

Thursday’s Daily Telegraph leader explains the reasons: “This is a failure of policy on an epic scale, the result of a 13-year social experiment that has proved an unmitigated disaster. Labour adopted the most simplistic of approaches, channelling all its energies and money into sex education programmes of dubious worth, while making contraception freely available – frequently without the knowledge of parents – to girls who were often under the age of consent.

“Ministers and officials reacted with horror to any suggestion that moral issues might come into play, while the notion of abstinence campaigns, widely deployed in the US, was greeted with contempt. At the same time, the policy of making cheap alcohol easily available round the clock – another Labour triumph – was tailor-made to encourage dissolute behaviour.”

It adds: “Moreover, parents must be part of the process, not kept in ignorance: evidence from America shows that their involvement helps to reduce teenage pregnancy rates.

“This is because it is the family, above all, that is the key here. A welfare system that rewards lone motherhood is perverse and wrong-headed. It has helped create communities with no male presence.”

It is worth noting that the UK figures for both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases here are in stark contrast to figures here.

According to Dr David Paton, an economist at the University of Nottingham, in 2008 (the latest available year), there were an estimated 73 pregnancies to Irish girls below the age of 16, a rate of 0.91 per thousand girls aged 13-15.

In a submission on behalf of the Iona Institute to the Law Reform Commission, which has recommended providing contraception without parental consent to children as young as 12, Dr Paton says that the comparable rate for England & Wales was 5.51 per thousand, over 6 times higher than here.

He adds that the estimated pregnancy rate for under-16s in Ireland is about the same as the rate in the Netherlands, a country which is often highlighted as having one of the best records on teenage pregnancy in the world.

Furthermore there is no evidence that the pregnancy rate amongst Irish minors has been getting significantly worse over the past few years. Why, therefore, the need to copy Britain’s failed approach.