Young, fresh out of school and … pregnant. A reality for many young women across the UK as Britain still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. Paradoxically, the UK being one of the world’s biggest users of contraceptives.
Teenage pregnancy is a problem that developed Western nations have been trying to battle since the 1960s, and although it may have gone unnoticed, the government have made huge progress in cutting down the numbers in the past two decades. The estimated number of conceptions to women aged under 18 fell to 20,351 in 2015, compared with 22,653 in 2014, a decrease of 10%.
The reality of teenage pregnancy in the UK is startling to many, according to the Office of National Statistics in 2015, the under 18 conception rate in 2015 was 21.0 conceptions per thousand women aged 15 to 17; this being the lowest rate recorded since comparable statistics were first produced in 1969. In comparison to Switzerland, where pregnancy rates within young girls is only 8 girls per 1000, is a ridiculously high percentage to hold. This could be due to the fact that Switzerland has provided sex education programs and free family planning services for many years, with the UK falling short of a lot of these services, as many children have been provided with bumbling, awkward lessons from regular teachers who don’t really have a clue.
In 2000, the Labour government launched a 10-year teenage pregnancy strategy, which saw the government pump over £250m into a multipronged approach that aimed to halve the rate of conceptions among under 18-year-olds by 2010. This means that the target which was set in 1998 by the then Labour government to halve teen pregnancies by 2010, was finally met… six years late.
The implications in terms of maternal and child health are huge, with many every 8.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. So what is it about having a child at such a young age that captivates so many young girls a year? Admittedly, many of the conceptions are accidental, however there are some teens out there that cannot wait to start a family and in turn have fallen pregnant before the age of 21. So what is it like being a mum in the 21st Century?
Sex education in England was finally made compulsory for all schools across the UK. Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing board, said: “The lack of compulsory SRE in secondary academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb, as we are seeing in those who have recently left school”.
The lack of professional, accurate sexual education is just one of the many reasons which the system has failed the young girls that have in fact fallen pregnant in the past years, with many being oblivious to the amount of contraception available for them. Contraception is more than available in the UK, with some health centres even visiting secondary schools to give young girls the chance to be protected, but is it useful?
Antina Hayes, aged 20 is an aspiring make-up artist who fell pregnant at the age of 17: “I wasn’t trying for a baby, I was on the pill and did not miss a single one! Before I fell pregnant I genuinely thought people who had kids young were ruining their life, but you never know until you’re in that situation!”
Antina is back on track with her career in make-up, having bagged herself a job working on film sets, but this can’t be said for everyone. Statistically, at least 40% of teenage mothers often leave school with no qualifications, and both teenage mothers and their children have poorer health outcomes, alongside an increased chance of living in poverty; more so due to neither parents being stable to support a family at such a young age.
Fresh out of secondary school, Chloe Garrett aged 18 fell pregnant at the tender age of 16. She was studying level 3 Art and Design at College and was hoping to eventually become a tattoo artist. However due to major health complications with the birth, she has not been able to: “My health has gone downhill due to problems before, but the pregnancy made things 10x worse! It’s so hard being a mum who is in and out of hospital, but I wouldn’t change it for the world! Some days are of course hard, however once that little baby looks in to your eyes, you realise that it’s all worth it!” Every Woman’s Right: How family planning saves children’s lives, written by Save the Children states: Worldwide, complications in regards to pregnancy are the “number one killer”, specifically between the ages of 15-19. They also add that 50,000 teenage girls and young women die during pregnancy and a child birth a year, many cases being because the young mothers body is not ready to bear children. With all of these complications, it’s a wonderwhy many doctors recommend termination very early on in the pregnancy, if the signs are there from the start.
Darcy-may French, aged 20 had always dreamed about starting her own family from a young age, and did just that falling pregnant at the age of 18. “Coming from a strong Gypsy Heritage, it is stereotypically accurate that I was to fall pregnant young, and I guess that’s exactly what happened”. Darcy made no effort in getting contraception, adding “I wasn’t fussed if I fell pregnant, if it happens it happens” But is there any harm in that? Why do we have to always assume that pregnancy at such a young age means that the girl is in trouble? “I am still looking to pursue a career in beauty and I will pursue my dream one day, but for the time being it has to be on hold”. Darcy was quick to point out that “Society today often stereotypes the typical young mum as someone who is just looking to gain benefits and get on the “doll” quicker.” But this isn’t the case, after surveying just over 100 young ladies from across the nation, I found only 30% were solely on benefits, without even an idea on what they were going to pursue in life.
Finally, meet Hannah Stace, aged 19 who manages the books of her family’s business alongside working at the local pub in her area. Hannah finished school with perfect grades and went on to become a qualified lifeguard as well as move out of her family house by the age of 17. She then fell pregnant at the age of 18, but has worked constantly throughout her pregnancy and since welcoming her baby into the world. Although Hannah was incredibly scared to tell her family, they have been increasingly supportive throughout herjourney in to motherhood and have helped her and her boyfriend provide for their new little family. “As much as being a mum is amazing, you need to remember to live your life and start a career. Do everything you want and need to do, and of course go travelling!”
Young, fresh, out of school and pregnant; something that isn’t as bad as society may think. The realisation for these young girls is clear, “Wait until you have a career, a house, and an amazing, supportive partner before you even think about having children” … “Make sure you have the right support around you, it’s so hard but it’s also so worth it! You have to be prepared to lose a lot of friends, but your real ones will stick by you.”