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On teenage pregnancy, the Government is in a hole. And it’s still digging

The rise in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among young people shows that the Government strategy is misdirected

By on Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I asked my granddaughter, who has just finished at a very fine convent, whether they had talked to her about contraception. Apparently they brought in outside nurses to do the dirty deed. “By the time they’d finished,” she said, “I had condoms popping out of my ears.” She has a talent for metaphor.

And then I open Wednesday’s Telegraph and find two adjacent articles. One headline reads, “Sharp rise in teenage pregnancy rate” and the other “Young adults drive increase in sex diseases”. I need scarcely summarise the content because it is exactly what you are imagining it to be.

In fact the claim for dramatic jumps does not stand up to more careful examination, but there is no headline in the fact that pregnancy and infection rates in the young simply remain exceedingly high. So many lives damaged, so many of God’s beloved creations ejected into the hospital waste bin.

But a detail, small by comparison with the human tragedy, catches my attention. The accusation that we do not follow the evidence is thrown at us 100 times a day. How much more evidence do we need to know that the last government’s teenage pregnancy strategy is totally misdirected and, given the fate of preceding initiatives, bound to fail.

I suppose that if you were to search long enough and ask enough teenagers you might eventually find one or two of sadly restricted mental capacity who were not aware that sexual intercourse caused pregnancy, or who did not know that a variety of diseases is the common outcome of sexual contact. You might find more among their teachers who admit that they are “lacking in the confidence or information to teach sex and relationship education effectively, despite knowing that many of their students are sexually active”. Whatever salary these teachers are being paid it is too much.

So we have on one side Professor David Paton declaring the ex-government’s strategy as a waste of money, and hamstrung by the lack of parental involvement, which has been shown to cut pregnancy rates; he is accompanied by Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust, who describes the strategy as a disaster. On the other side is Marie Stopes International telling us that the situation will not improve unless children are more fully versed in how to protect themselves.

Our brave new Government tells us that the policy is “under review”. My hopes are not great, but they might do well to start with the dictum that when you know you are in a hole, stop digging. That is what the evidence tells us – so take note. But don’t shun the challenge. It is not enough to say what won’t work, we have to be ready to say what will. Such variety of Catholic material to which I have had access does not impress.