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12 February 1998 Edition

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Sshh, you'll wake the children

by Meadbh Gallagher

This week there was shock horror at revelations of how today's teens are doing lines and drawing lines.

Not long ago there used to be a straight line leading from bicycle shed to disco floor to back seat of car to back end of nowhere. After a detour to the doctor it led straight up the church aisle and on to a reception in the local supermarket in the aisle marked baby foods/nappies.

And there'd be leaden eyelids lowered if you chose to do otherwise.

With today's teens, for a start, marriage is out of the question. According to a poll commissioned by a tabloid newspaper, only 4 in every 100 girls would consider marrying the father of the child if they became pregnant and gave birth.

Over 60% of girls aged 13 to 17 years would choose to raise the child as a single mother - following the pattern set by their older sisters or mothers and making Ireland the European country where more women are single parents.

Eighteen per cent of the girls said they'd opt for adoption. Fourteen per cent, or one in seven, would opt for an abortion. In some parts of Munster, where only 8% of their parents would advise them to have an abortion, one in five girls, or 21%, would choose to have one. In Connacht and those parts of Ulster falling within the 26 Counties, zero per cent of parents said they'd advise an abortion, while 18% of their daughters said they'd go for one.

Though 80% of teens in the city and 70% in the country areas had sex education at school, the majority felt it wasn't very informative. And ignorance about homosexuality was highest: 66% agreed they knew little, very little or hardly anything at all about what it means to be gay or lesbian. Hardly a recipe for an end to homophobia, never mind an end to teen confusion about sexuality.

And the poll shows that some things haven't changed. Only a quarter of parents claimed to have talked to their children about contraception, while even fewer children could recall this ever happening. Girls knew more than boys about sex, conception, contraception, and avoiding HIV and STDs, and the majority in both sexes knew not a great deal anyway.

The not-talking-about-it principle is shared not just by parents and schoolteachers, though; it's a political principle as well. For example, this poll comes as it's being reported that the government will not make public the recommendations of an expert group appointed by the last government to look into the background to Irish abortions.

And what about all those teenage mums? Why is it, as the statistics show, that the percentage of teenage births is increasing annually. According to the Eastern Health Board, in 1995 22% of births in Ireland were non-marital, and 22% of those births were by women and girls under 20 years old.

And teenagers who give birth don't fit the old stereotypes that the nuns used to warn you about. A questionnaire study of teenage mums attending antenatal clinics last year showed 80.8% had had just one partner to date and 87.5% were involving in a continuing relationship with the father.

The percentage of teenage mums is highest in the Tallaght and Crumlin areas (8.4% of all births), followed by Dublin North Central (6.7%), Clondalkin, Ballyfermot and Inchicore (6.4%) and Finglas and Phibsboro (6.1%).

So the percentage of teenage births in the Eastern Health Board areas in 1996 was highest where socio-economic deprivation is entrenched, where unemployment is highest, where kids leave school earlier and where their future prospects are judged to be lowest.

You might think it's an awful thing that to get a bit of status a girl thinks she has to become a mum, but it looks like that's what's happening. And it's been going on for longer than the recent media interest would suggest.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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