Dona Milne: Deprivation cycle hurts young women

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New statistics released this week offer continued reassurance that work to reduce teenage pregnancies in Scotland is going well, particularly in reducing the numbers of young women becoming pregnant under the age of 16. This is really good news.

However, we know that unintended teenage pregnancy is largely due to the effects of deprivation, a lack of connectedness with education, few prospects of meaningful employment and a lack of skills to negotiate sexual relationships based on mutual respect. An early pregnancy can lead to poor outcomes for the young woman and her baby, sometimes creating a cycle of deprivation that can continue for generations.

So, whilst the reduction in teenage pregnancy is a good thing, look closer at the numbers and you will see a strong link between deprivation and teenage parenthood. Young women under 20 living in areas of deprivation are almost five times as likely to become pregnant than those living in a more affluent area, and they are 12 times more likely to go ahead with the pregnancy.

For some young people, teenage parenthood is very much a planned and positive experience but imagine how much more positive it might be if young people could delay it by a couple of years until they have a wee bit more life experience to deal with all that parenthood throws at them.

The Scottish Government has just released a draft national pregnancy and parenthood in young people strategy. This is very welcome. It shows the impact of teenage pregnancy and what we need to do in Scotland to reduce the negative effect on young people and their families.

Like our work here in Edinburgh and the Lothians, it talks about how we can prevent teenage pregnancy by increasing attendance at school, having good sex and relationships education, accessible young people’s services, and how we can support those who do get pregnant by keeping them in education, providing good services for young parents. It makes a clear commitment to reduce the cycle of deprivation created by teenage pregnancy.

Some say it takes a whole community to raise a child and that’s exactly what we need. We need children and young people to feel welcome and included – in school and their local community. They need the benefits of positive relationships with parents, teachers, youth workers and others who support our children and young people.

Dona Milne is deputy director of public health at NHS Lothian