3.9% of the births in NSW to mothers under 20 years of age
12,326 teenagers gave birth in Australia in 2008

Teenage pregnancies in Australia are on the rise again with an increase of 15% since 2008. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics teenage birth rates in NSW seem to be concentrated around the greater western Sydney area and more rural areas in the west of the state. Data suggests that this co-insides with lower socio-economic areas of Sydney. The Greater Western Area Health Service has the highest rate of teenage mothers, recording 8.1% of NSW births.

Experts are concerned as they see this as an indication that teenagers are becoming sexually active earlier. This can put them at risk of not only unplanned pregnancies but also sexually transmissible diseases, many young people do not engage in protected sex.
Dr Patricia Weerakoon, co-ordinator of the University of Sydney’s graduate program in sexual health said ”The rates of sexually transmissible infections in young people are rising because they are having unprotected sex. That is also reflected in the rising number of teenagers having babies.”

Maggie Hamilton, author of What’s Happening to our Girls? and Generation Next speaker is concerned that at such a young age, adolescents are not emotionally equipped to deal with the intricacies of an intimate relationship or the long term commitment a baby brings.

“Girls see teenage pregnancy as a way of giving themselves the nurture they’ve missed out on. For those short months of pregnancy, the attention is on them. Their expectations about having a baby are so unrealistic,” she said. They go for instant gratification without considering the long term consequences of their actions; an unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy.

While many young people are reaching puberty before their teenage years, their brains do not fully develop until they are in their late teens or early 20s.

“Their hormones are saying they are ready to become sexually active but their brains won’t fully mature for another few years,” Dr Weerakoon said. “Young teenagers do not have a well-developed control mechanism which is why they engage in risky behaviour. They don’t think about the long-term consequences of their behaviour.”

Many, like Associate Professor Juliet Richters, of the University of NSW feel the answer is to provide better sex education and access to more information about sexual health in general.

“Australia is only doing medium well in terms of providing support and sex education to young women, the 14, 15, 16-year-old age group who become pregnant tend to be at risk … A lot of them don’t necessarily want to have the baby,” She said.

Another possible solution is to support teenage mothers so they can finish their education and to this end many schools now run programs for young mothers.

The NSW Education Department has made the successful young mothers program implemented at Plumpton High School in western Sydney available to all high schools.

The Burnside State High School in Queensland also runs a course for young mothers so they can finish their schooling. The Supporting Teenagers Education Mothering Mentoring (STEMM) program is designed to provide support and understanding for pregnant girls and young mums in a safe, non-judgemental environment.

In Partnership with Education Queensland, TAFE and the University of the Sunshine Coast, girls are able to engage with learning pathways towards certified outcomes.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: The Sun Herald