If insanity can be defined as doing the same failed thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then the secular strategy for tackling teen sexuality and pregnancy has to be one of the most insane policies around.
Earlier this week, the UK Government announced that another of its plans to reduce teenage pregnancies (the UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world) had failed.
Teenagers participating in the Government’s Young People’s Development Programme (YPDP), were found to be more likely than their peers to have had sex, according to the Government’s own findings.
They also found that 16 per cent of girls enrolled in the scheme fell pregnant, more than twice as many as in a similar ‘comparison’ group of teenagers, where the rate was just six per cent.
The scheme involved more than 2,700 children aged between 13 and 15. They were told how to access contraception and were even given free condoms in some sites.
This failure follows on from a series of other failed policies involving the distribution of contraception. Teenage pregnancy rates in England and Wales increased in 2007. The figures show that 41.9 girls per 1,000 aged 15 to 17 became pregnant in 2007, compared with 40.9 in 2006.
Among girls aged 13 to 15 the rate rose from 7.8 per 1,000 girls to 8.3. Around 8,196 girls aged under 16 became pregnant in 2007. This has been despite a concerted, prolonged and well-funded programme to lower the rate of teenage pregnancy.
Dr David Paton, Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School, who has done a lot of work in this area, has described the UK Government’s policy in this area as “absolutely disastrous”.
It isn’t the first time that New Labour’s approach to this issue has been exposed. In 2002, Dr Paton released a study showing that family planning information did not lead to a decrease in unwanted pregnancies.
It found that young people who were prescribed the morning-after pill were much more likely to have abortions.
It examined figures from the Office of National Statistics for 2000 showing that 4,382 girls under the age of 16 had abortions, up 200 on the year before and up 20% since 1992, during the time of the previous Conservative Government.
So what has been the hallmark of this policy? In a word, contraception. There has been a complete aversion towards any attempt to change or even challenge teenage sexual behaviour in any other way. Instead, the governing assumption has been that teenagers are utterly incapable of anything beyond using contraception.
This view is false, but nothing seems to be able to shake the policymakers’ conviction that tackling teenage pregnancy must involve the promotion of contraception, and the avoidance of any notion such as fidelity, let alone abstinence.
It is a mentality which recalls the attitude of those AIDS campaigners who adamantly refused to accept the clear evidence that the Ugandan policy of stressing abstinence and fidelity as the way to tackle the spread of the virus actually worked.
As one of them said at the time, the fact that committed Christians favoured this approach made him suspicious. “It’s hard to look at the evidence,” he said. How many more examples of this failed, permissive approach to sexual health must we see fail before the penny finally drops?