The mothers age 10

by STEVE DOUGHTY, Daily Mail

Four girls aged ten have become the youngest to get pregnant and go on to have babies, it was revealed yesterday.

As well as the ten-year-olds, 23 children aged 11 have also become pregnant over a period of three years.

The shocking examples of primary school children becoming mothers are among 400 cases of girls under 14 conceiving each year.

Their plight was blamed yesterday on the growing official tolerance of under-age sex that has already given this country the worst teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.

The record-breaking cases of schoolgirl motherhood were revealed in figures from the Office for National Statistics. The increasing numbers of under-age pregnancies are in part due to earlier puberty.

The average age at which a girl matures has fallen from around 14 in the 1950s to between 12 and 13, and recent studies show that one girl in six is showing signs of puberty by the age of eight.

But critics of the state's attitude to sex among teenagers say that the Government's sponsorship of permissive sex education and the widespread distribution of contraceptives has encouraged the spread of sexual behaviour among children utterly unprepared for it.

Robert Whelan, of the pressure group Family and Youth Concern, said: 'It is possible - as it was not in the past - for girls to get pregnant at the age of ten. But the problem is not that they can get pregnant, but that they are sexually active at that age.

'Children are not being protected from sexual relationships at very young ages.

'These cases probably involve paedophile activity or certainly very much older teenage boys. You do not often find sexual relationships between two primary school children.

'Each case is a tragedy for the girl involved, who will be damaged mentally, physically and emotionally.'

Government programmes to cut teenage motherhood include the distribution of condoms, the Pill and the morning-after Pill through secondary schools, a policy which makes contraception easily available to 11-year-olds.

Critics complain that the policy effectively sanctions sex under the legal age of consent of 16.

Ministers have pledged to halve the rate of teenage pregnancy by 2010.

But although there are signs of a slight decline in conceptions among older teens, the rate of pregnancies involving girls under 16 went up last year, from 7.9 girls in every 1,000 to 8.1.

According to the figures, four girls of 11 became pregnant in 1998, six in 1999 and 13 in 2000.

In 2000, the most recent year for which full figures are available, 395 girls under 14 became pregnant. Around six out of ten of these underwent abortions.

Despite Government confidence that wider sex education and use of contraceptives can cut pregnancy rates, there is increasing evidence that this is not the case.

Research by economist Dr David Paton, of the Nottingham University Business School, showed that while family planning clinic prescriptions to under-16s for the morning-after Pill went up by 284 per cent between 1992 and 2000, the overall under-16 pregnancy rate was virtually unchanged.

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