Underage British parents prompt teen pregnancy debate

14th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Britain is home to one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in western Europe.

London -- A baby-faced 13-year-old British schoolboy has fathered a child with his 15-year-old girlfriend, triggering debate about the country's high level of teenage pregnancies.

Alfie Patten, whose voice has not yet broken, admitted on Friday he had not thought about how he and girlfriend Chantelle Steadman would support baby daughter Maisie Roxanne, who was born Monday, but vowed to be a good father.

"I didn't think about how we would afford it,” the four-foot (1.22 meter) tall teenager from Eastbourne, southern England, told the Sun tabloid. “I don't really get pocket money. My dad sometimes gives me 10 pounds (11 euros, 14 dollars).”

The teenager also elaborated on the problem of having to tell his parents the news. “When my mum found out, I thought I was going to get in trouble,” he said. “I didn’t know what it would be like to be a dad. I will be good, though, and care for it."

The case has drawn comment from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, while a former leader of the main opposition Conservative Party said it was an example of social breakdown in "broken Britain."

"I don't know the individual details of the case but of course I think all of us would want to avoid teenage pregnancies," Brown told reporters when asked about the case.

But Iain Duncan Smith, a senior lawmaker and former Conservative leader, said someone needed to speak out about the breakdown of the family in Britain.

"Too many dysfunctional families in Britain today have children growing up where anything goes," he said. "It exemplifies the point we have been making about broken Britain. It's not being accusative, it's about pointing out the complete collapse in some parts of society of any sense of what's right and wrong.”

Smith also said there was a lack of feedback to today’s young. "There is no opprobrium anymore about behavior and quite often children witness behavior that's aggressive, violent, rude and sexual,” he said. “It's as if no one is saying this is wrong."

The government has launched a strategy to reduce teenage pregnancy in England, which has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in western Europe.

Advisors say the level is falling but have called for more accessible contraceptives and more sex education in schools in areas that are falling behind.

Tony Kerridge, a spokesman for Marie Stopes International, which runs sexual health clinics in 40 countries worldwide, praised such efforts.

But he added that many young people in Britain needed to be encouraged to have higher aspirations.

"We have got the social aspect of young girls in the UK seeing having a baby as a route to getting their own place," he said. "It may seem like a short term solution to problems at home, but the mid- to long- term prospects are probably a life stuck on benefits. We should, as a society, be encouraging our young people to have much bigger and better aspirations than that."

Police could have brought a prosecution for underage sex in the latest case, because the age of consent in Britain is 16, but say they will not press charges.

And the families of both of the new, young parents are reportedly standing by them.

Alfie Patten's father Dennis, 45, said his son was fully committed to his new paternal role.

"He could have shrugged his shoulders and sat at home on his PlayStation,” Patten’s father said. “But he has been at the hospital every day."

The baby, who weighed in at seven pounds and three ounces (3.27 kilos), was conceived after one night of unprotected sex, the Sun reported. Alfie was 12 years old at the time.

Katherine Haddon/AFP/Expatica

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