Pregnant Welsh teenagers most likely to keep their babies but need help to keep studying. Nicola Porter reports.
Teenage girls in Wales who fall pregnant are less likely to have an abortion than those from other parts of the UK, new figures show.
In some parts of England almost 60 per cent of girls under the age of 18 opted to terminate their pregnancy in 2004. But in Wales just 39 per cent had a termination in the same year.
Anti-abortion groups have welcomed the number of girls deciding to keep their babies, despite the country having the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Europe.
Julia Millington, political director at the Prolife Alliance, said schools should teach girls as young as 13 the "full psychological and medical consequences" of having an abortion. She called for young mums to be rewarded financially to help them carry on their education.
But Dr Heledd Hayes, education officer at the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said schools should not influence the right of girls to choose either way. Instead, she called for teenage mums to be given more help - including more school-based creches for both teachers and pupils.
The latest statistics show Wales is winning a battle against high levels of teenage pregnancies in the under-18s - but only just. In 2004, the overall rate of pregnancies per 1,000 girls between 15 and 17 dipped so slightly from 2003 that the figure remains unchanged at 45. In England, the 2004 rate also stands still at 41.
A slight fall was recorded in 12 of Wales's 22 local authorities with one staying the same. However, the number of girls getting pregnant before they are 14 has shot up across England and Wales.
In Merthyr Tydfil the figures for girls under 18 becoming pregnant went up by almost 7 per cent compared with 2003. A similar steep rise was also recorded in Torfaen and Ceredigion.
Torfaen also recorded the highest number of teenage mums in Wales for the second year running, with almost 67 out of 1,000 girls falling pregnant compared with just 60 in 2003.
Dr Hayes said the figures were worrying. She said it was believed that girls who fell pregnant at school often did not return to education after taking their GCSEs because they were embarrassed.
"More support networks should be made available to encourage girls to study if they want to," she said. "Not all girls who fall pregnant want to be in a school environment while they are pregnant. However, it is still vital they are well educated in the basic skills they may need in later life if they want to find work.
"It is sad that research indicates some girls feel they have to fall pregnant to achieve 'status' because they feel they won't gain qualifications or a job when they leave school."
Last year TES Cymru revealed how a record-breaking 50.3 per cent of Welsh babies are born out of wedlock - 18 per cent of those are to teenage mums.The comparable figures in England are 41 and 15 per cent.
Iniatives such as the Books and Babies scheme for teenage mums in Rhondda Cynon Taf are up and running in some of the most deprived areas of Wales.
But organisers admit few return to school after having their children.
Ceredigion and Newport had the highest proportion of abortions in Wales (51 per cent) with the least in Merthyr Tydfil (29 per cent).
An Assembly spokesperson said: "In the mid-1990s there was an upward trend in teenage pregnancies in Wales. This trend has now been reversed.
"In fact, since 2000, under-18s' conceptions have been reduced by 6 per cent (18 per cent since 1998) and under-16s conceptions have gone down by 15 per cent (31 per cent since 1998)."