Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Hallelujah! at Last It Has Been Recognised That, for Every Teenage Pregnancy, Two People Are to Blame

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Hallelujah! at Last It Has Been Recognised That, for Every Teenage Pregnancy, Two People Are to Blame

Article excerpt

"Pass this rose among you, girls." Twenty pairs of hands dutifully passed the red rose around the classroom. "Now look," our teacher smiled sadly as she held up the flower once it had been returned to her, "how shabby and faded it looks. That's what will happen to you if you have sex." That was the extent of sex education at my convent school circa 1975. I don't know how many of my classmates (all girls) ended up pregnant as teenagers; but I know I am grateful to my Swedish mother, who took a far more prosaic line on reproduction - lots of anatomical drawings and technical names - than my teacher did with her floral euphemisms. I didn't mind looking like a faded rose, but "vaginal penetration" was a real turn-off.

Most teenagers in Britain don't have Swedish mums, though. And it shows.

A newly published Social Exclusion Unit report points out that, once again, Britain tops the teenage pregnancy charts for Europe. To solve the problem, the unit recommends a punitive package: single teenage mothers should not get council homes, it says, and they should attend job interviews under the "single gateway" pilot schemes. Nothing new there: the scapegoats for teen sex have always - by nature or by custom - been the girls.

But for once, boys are being singled out for some punishment, too: the Child Support Agency is to pursue fathers of babies born to teenage girls. They will have to pay [pounds]5 a week for 18 years - whether they have a job or not - to the mother of their child. And parenting and sexual-health classes will be made compulsory in all young-offender institutions, where up to a third of male inmates have fathered children.

Hallelujah! The powers that be seem finally to have realised that it takes two to tangle and that in the blame-and-shame ritual that constitutes our policy towards teenage pregnancies, girls aren't the only culprits. …

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