In Brief

CLAIM: The United Kingdom has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.

CONCLUSION: True. However, the teenage pregnancy rate in Northern Ireland was the lowest within the British Isles in 2014.

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"Silouette of a Pregnant Teen" by MarijoAH12 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

According to the most recent report from the Family Planning Association (FPA), the UK has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe:

Live birth rate (per 1,000) to women aged 15-19 and 15-17 in EU28 countries, 2012:

Source: Eurostat data, compiled by the Office for National Statistics

Source: Eurostat data, compiled by the Office for National Statistics

But is this rate increasing or decreasing? And what is the case for Northern Ireland?

Teenage pregnancy is steadily declining throughout the UK, with Northern Ireland having the lowest rate on record in 2014 (10.32 per 1,000 females aged 13-19). Scotland displays a higher rate than most other Western European countries, but more recently (2014) its rate has noticeably declined (34.1 per 1,000 females aged 13-19):

Births ae <20 (per 1,000) EU-UK-NI-Ireland 2004-2014

Sources: EU28; UK; England & Wales; Scotland; Northern Ireland; and Ireland (1) & (2)

Reasons why?

In Northern Ireland, following the rise in births to teenage mothers in the mid 1990s, which peaked at 1,791 in 1999, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) launched the regional teenage pregnancy and parenthood strategy and action plan in an attempt to reduce the number of births to teenage parents. Since 2003 much of the focus from a Government perspective has been on educating teenagers, making resources widely available and providing assurances on confidentiality when seeking advice. In 2007, the Department of Education embarked on a revised curriculum which included compulsory components focused on self-awareness, personal health and relationships.

Since 2007, the number of births to teenage mothers has fallen by around 40 per cent. In 2014, the number of births to mothers aged under 20 years old reached a new record low of 839. This is 10 per cent lower than in 2013 and nearly 44 per cent lower than in 2004, when there were 1,486 births to teenage mothers:

Births ae 13-19 NI 1984-2014

Source: Registrar General Annual Report 2014 [NB 12Mb download], Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency

Government strategies

The Department of Health in England launched the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in 1999. It shares many components with the approach employed in Northern Ireland, such as focusing on education and contraceptive services. The policy only applies to England, but the number of conceptions among women aged under 18 in England and Wales has halved between 1998 and 2014, with the rate dropping from 47.1  to 22.9 (51% decline).

Ireland established the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme (previously known as the Crisis Pregnancy Agency) in 2001. While teenage pregnancy is not the only focus of this programme, it remains an integral part of its mission, and between 2001 and 2010 Ireland observed a 44% decline in pregnancies among women under 20.

However, the Scottish government did not develop a strategy for tackling teenage pregnancy until March of this year. While it has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the British Isles, this will be their first official plan to action focusing primarily on this issue. Despite its uniquely high rate of teenage pregnancy, and the lack of a comprehensive executive strategy until this year, between 2007 and 2014 Scotland still enjoyed a decline from 57.7 to 34.1 (40.9%) in the rate of births among mothers under 20.

Nevertheless, data show that Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy within the British Isles.