LONDON - TEENAGE pregnancy rates in England and Wales have risen for the first time in five years, threatening a government target to halve levels by 2010, according to official figures released on Thursday.
Britain has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe and while underage birth rates have fallen over the last decade, this is partly due to an increased use of abortion. The issue was highlighted earlier this month by the case of Alfie Patten from Eastbourne who became a father at the age of just 13. His girlfriend was 15.
Provisional figures for 2007 showed there were 41.9 conceptions for every 1,000 under-18 girls, up from 40.9 the year previously and the first rise since 2002. Half of those pregnancies were terminated, a higher proportion than in 2006, meaning there was no rise in the number of live births.
The government said the figures showed young people were not getting effective contraception and were indulging in more risky sexual behaviour. In response, it announced it would spend an extra 20.5 million pounds to improve young people's access to contraception and raise their awareness of unprotected sex.
Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said the figures were disappointing but that the long-term trend in underage pregnancies was still downward.
She said under-18 conceptions were down nearly 11 percent and teenage births were down 23 per cent since the Labour government's strategy began in 1998 - the year when underage conceptions peaked and which is the baseline for the government's target.
'There is no doubt that rates have come down where local areas have implemented the strategy properly, even in deprived areas,' Ms Hughes said.
'Our strategy is to encourage teenagers to delay early sexual activity and to use contraception when they do become sexually active.'
The highest teenage pregnancy rates were in Lambeth and Southwark in inner-city London, where around 75 out of every 1,000 girls under 18 became pregnant in 2007, although both boroughs have significantly reduced the rates in recent years.
The lowest rates were found in more prosperous areas, such as Richmond-upon-Thames in southwest London, Windsor and Maidenhead, and West Berkshire, where there were fewer than 20 conceptions per 1,000 under-18 girls. -- REUTERS