Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 20 February 2009

Teenage mothers - a tale of two worlds

There was a horrible irony in the juxtaposition of two particular news stories this week.

Two 15-year-old mothers appeared on the front pages; one the mother of twins born last year, the other the mother of - allegedly - Alfie Patten's child. Both girls were allowed to sleep with boyfriends under the parental roof despite being 14 years old. The news stories suggest they are not isolated examples; teenage motherhood rates are on the increase across the country - as a glance into Max Clifford's postbag would doubtless confirm.

Meanwhile in Nigeria and Ethiopia, to name but two, health workers campaign tirelessly for an end to child marriage. In both countries, girls can be married as young as 12 and many teenagers die or suffer serious injury as a result of giving birth too young and with inadequate health care. The authorities are reluctant to legislate against this, citing cultural and religious imperatives as justification.

A reporter interviewed a young Ethiopian girl who expressed her delight and relief that her wedding had been postponed because a doctor said she was too physically immature. "Now I am happy that I can go back to school." she said, "I want to study and take my exams. Perhaps one day I too may be a doctor." Education for her is a prized commodity, while in Britain it is, like universal free healthcare, taken for granted.

Thus it is that, while in some countries girls in their early teens are coerced into leaving school and facing the risks of early motherhood, their British contemporaries play truant and rush headlong into sexual activity, with all the associated risks of disease and under-age pregnancy, secure in the knowledge that, whatever happens, the NHS and the welfare state will pick up the pieces.

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