Over the last fifteen years or so I have seen some pretty grim use of statistics and reporting about sex and relationships education, the age of consent, youth sexuality and sexual health services. But over the past couple of days even I have said Wow this reporting of teenage pregnancy and the blatant use of shock tactics to overstate the problem of teenage pregnancy in this country is grim.
The government released, to The Sun, following an Freedom Of Information request, figures about the rates of pregnancy amongst 10-15 year olds between 2000 and 2007. The resulting headline focussed on the youngest children about whom data was released. Leaving aside for a minute the fact that the figures were mangled and presented an extremely inaccurate picture, I ask you to consider what anyone could hope to gain from a story about pregnant 10 year olds.
Of course it is not acceptable that even a single 10 year old has ever become pregnant. No sensible child, young person or adult wants that. It is particularly terrible because we are not talking about teenage pregnancy, ‘over sexualised’ children, or any other ‘Broken Britain’ indicator. We are talking about children who have been abused.
The abuse of children has been used to score a cheap point about teenage pregnancy rates and the government policy on teenage pregnancy. And be in no doubt that some journalists want to track down some of these children. Brook’s press office received calls yesterday asking our help in providing ‘case studies’ of pregnant 10 year olds.
This deliberate misrepresentation of facts, the sensationalising of the impact of sex and relationships education and misreporting of the truth about teenage pregnancy creates fear and misunderstanding that permeates throughout society and fails to protect children and young people. Brook carried out some research last year which showed that 95% of us seriously overestimate the numbers of young people who become pregnant. Small wonder, when some part of the media continue to insist on inaccurate scaremongering fronted as public interest journalism.
And for the record, most young people under the age of 16 do not have sex and our teenage conception rates have, overall, decreased by 10.5% since 1998. Higher numbers of young people having an abortion if they get pregnant, which means that overall we have about a 24% reduction in teenage births in England.
We need to build on this success and ensure that young people are only having sex when they are able to consent, enjoy and take responsibility for it, and we need to ensure that young people are able to use contraceptive services and contraception effectively when they do have sex.