87% of Young Mothers in Britain Are Unmarried. That Is the Highest Rate in the World. It Can't Be Right, Mr Blair

By Disley, Jan; Mulchrone, Patrick | The Mirror (London, England), May 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

87% of Young Mothers in Britain Are Unmarried. That Is the Highest Rate in the World. It Can't Be Right, Mr Blair


Disley, Jan, Mulchrone, Patrick, The Mirror (London, England)


BRITAIN has the world's highest rate of unwed teenage mums with 87 per cent of adolescent births being outside marriage.

The astonishing figure was seen yesterday as a graphic illustration of the decline of marriage at a time when youngsters are starting sexual activity at an earlier age.

And last night parents groups and family planning campaigners urged Premier Tony Blair to help put marriage back at the forefront of family life, and to improve sex education in schools.

Cornelia Oddie, deputy director of Family and Youth Concern, said: "We have to put marriage back on the agenda as the optimum sexual relationship. We have to teach restraint.

"Our school sex education philosophy is that you give children value- free education and free access to contraceptives. They are then supposed to make informed choices. But 13-year-olds are not mature enough to make mature choices. We must change our approach."

Public health minister Tessa Jowell said last night: "I'm very concerned at the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Britain, and determined to reduce this increase in teenage conceptions. Early pregnancy shortens childhood, undermines the chance to do well at school, reduces the opportunity of getting a job and isolates young people."

Britain topped the poll in the first ever worldwide survey of young women's sexual habits compiled by the New York-based Alan Guttmacher Institute health group.

Researchers found that 87 per cent of the 41,500 children born to girls aged 15-19 in the UK were outside marriage, more than in Third World countries like Botswana (85 per cent) and Namibia (75 per cent).

Only 10 per cent of British girls are married by the time they are 18 compared to 38 per cent in Ghana. However, experts believe that an average of up to 30 per cent of girls worldwide in the 15-19 age group are forced into sex against their will.

Figures also show that Britain has one of the world's highest sexual activity rates for women under 20.

Eighty-seven per cent of those aged up to 24 had sex before 20. In Latin America and the Caribbean the figure is only 56 per cent.

Chief researcher Dr Susheela Singh and her six-strong team took two years to complete the report. Dr Singh said: "The most surprising element is that Britain has an even higher proportion of unmarried mothers than other developed countries. "

Dr Singh, a professional demographer, blamed a general change in social attitudes for the rising figures of young mums. She said: "Poorer, less- educated girls don't see many opportunities for themselves other than being a mother. They consider motherhood to be a career.

"That situation obviously leaves a lot to be desired. Contraception services should be improved. We also want specialist counselling to be made available." Jeannie Rosoff, president of the Guttmacher Institute, said in London: "The lives of the young women in this report are to some extent already determined.

"Most are no longer at school, many are married or mothers, and some have been exploited sexually. But the same fate does not need to befall their younger sisters, or the next generation of adolescents.

"Parents, communities and governments must recognise how imperative it is to direct attention to improving the situation of girls and young women."

Anne Weyman, of the Family Planning Association, said: "The survey findings reflect the trend of people getting married later and more couples having children outside marriage than ever before."

But a spokeswoman for Parent Network said she was "shocked" by the revelation that Britain had the highest percentage of unmarried teenage mums.

She said: "It shows that urgent support is needed for teenagers. There are a variety of reasons for this problem. It could be peer pressure to have sex or even to have a baby. It may also be inadequate information about birth control.

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