Article suggesting forced sterilization
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Why we should sterilise teenage girls ... temporarily at least By FAY WELDON
Last updated at 01:18am on 15th February 2008
Last week, an intriguing proposition was mooted by Government minister Dawn Primarolo.
Teenage girls, she said, could be steered towards what is described as "long-term contraception".
This is now possible thanks to the development of contraceptive jabs and implants which can last up to five years.
In other words, there is a way of effectively sterilising girls for a lengthy period of time.
At what age? Well, doesn't 12 until 17 sound rather sensible?
This would have the advantage of bringing down the teenage pregnancy rate, so high in this country it makes us a disgrace among the nations - the worst offenders in Europe.
The abortion rate would fall sharply. And silly young girls could get on with the education that is meant to produce serious, responsible taxpayers, not benefit recipients.
Now, many people will see this modest proposal as little short of horrific - nothing less than state interference in our reproductive lives.
But think about it: it might not be such a bad idea.
We are moving into a science fiction age in which life itself can be created in a test tube, and it seems that, before long, perfect babies could be bred at will, largely free of hereditary disease and illness.
So, in my view, there is little point any more in feeling shock-horror at the idea of mass sterilisation.
Neither do I believe it will encourage "promiscuity" because girls will feel they have nothing to fear in sleeping around. In truth, they seem to be doing that already. I'm afraid we are now in a time when sex is mere recreational pleasure to thousands of young women.
The trouble is that pregnancy no longer holds the fear for teenagers it once did. The social stigma has gone.
Indeed, for many, it seems, a child has actually become a kind of perverse badge of honour.
Obviously, there are millions of sensible young girls, but for many, having a baby seems to be the logical, and even desirable, result of their teenage flings.
It it wasn't, they'd stir themselves to do something to prevent themselves getting pregnant, like taking the morning-after pill.
But they don't. Because the benefits of doing nothing to stop it are obvious.
Suddenly, they can give birth to someone who will offer unconditional love in a bleak, busy, money-grubbing world.
The council will offer a free home away from nagging parents. They will have independence, sexual freedom and no more humiliating exams to try to pass - because, more than likely, their education will fall by the wayside.
Nowadays, ask some girls why they want a baby so badly and they will say vaguely: "Oh, I want to fulfil myself."
Once, they would have confidently said of the father: "I love him. And I want a bit of me, a bit of him, to go on for all eternity."
It's not like that any more. Love is seen as little more than a neurotic dependency to the young.
The fear of pregnancy used to stop girls having sex. To be pregnant and unmarried was a major life disaster (as it is still in some of our ethnic communities.)
You were disgraced, soiled goods: the child was removed, no one would marry you.
I had a great aunt locked up for life in an asylum from the age of 20 until she died. She had been declared a "moral imbecile" because she had a baby out of wedlock.
My mother tried to rescue her - but to no avail. The rest of the family was against it. After 30 years, she was so institutionalised, anyway, that she didn't want to leave.
This condemnation of the sexually imprudent was not meant to be unkind. People were poor, babies without fathers suffered and there was no way women could earn money if they had a child.
It was a moral issue but the stigma was born out of necessity: a desperate attempt to stop girls from doing what came naturally until a father and a home could be provided.
But for all that, unwelcome babies went on being born - the human impulse to procreate being what it is.
How to have sex without getting pregnant was in those days a real mystery. Now we know everything there is to know about preventing babies, yet still girls take risks.
Understanding how the body works and what happens next seem to make no difference.
Currently, our teenage pregnancy rate is twice as high as in Germany, three times as high as in France and six times as high as in the Netherlands.
Is this because, in this country, getting pregnant while still at school has become a status symbol for the girls, as ASBOs have for the boys?
In spite of all the efforts of the Government's Teenage Pregnancy Unit, and millions of pounds spent on initiatives to persuade girls that having babies young is a bad, bad thing, the rates stay sky-high.
In 2005, there were 39,804 conceptions by under-18s in England - a rate of 41.3 per thousand.
The trouble for those who would tackle the pregnancy problem is that the very act of warning against pregnancy can be unproductive.
A certain proportion of teenagers like to defy fate - and the more you warn them not to smoke, drink, have sex, stay up late, join gangs, the more they will.
Defying authority, not doing what you're told, is, for many, part of growing up - the search for your own identity, a necessary preparation for leaving the nest. Persuasion doesn't work. The instinct to rebel goes too deep.
Boys have always wanted to have sex and notch up "scores" on the bedpost.
The trouble now is that the girls - who once wanted just to be loved by someone, anyone - are under intense peer pressure, don't want to be outdone or be seen to be 'square', and so behave like the boys.
So much for gender equality in the classroom!
It seems that many of today's girls just like being pregnant, and emotionally and physically - not just practically - have more to gain than lose if they are. Sex education hasn't helped, and may indeed have harmed.
Freud's view of the psychosexual development of the child has been ignored. His opinion was that you interfere with the "latency" phase of ages nine to 12 at your peril, for fear of stopping further development.
In Freud's theory, the latency phase is when a child unconsciously denies the facts of life until he or she is ready to face them. If unpalatable facts are forced down the child's throat it's traumatising, and progression to sexual maturity is halted.
In other words, if you start teaching the birds and the bees too early, all that the nine, ten or 11-year-olds will do is want to experiment with what they have been taught before they have the emotional capability to deal with the fallout.
The Government says it has tried everything to stop pregnancy rates rising - from school matrons to a blizzard of sex education, to free condoms and morning-after pills.
But it's not working. That's why I think sterilising girls for a few years isn't such a bad idea after all - and, when you think about it, it's a tempting solution for the State, too.
Once you stop your under-20s having babies, there's no end to the social improvements you could make.
If girls go on to college instead of minding babies, fewer children overall will be born. The more educated a girl, the fewer babies she is likely to have - education and fertility rates being in inverse proportion.
The maternity services, now so very over-stretched, would be better able to cope. Young mothers would not have the priority they now do when it comes to housing, and accommodation would be set free for those unfortunates clamouring on the waiting lists.
Education would benefit, too. Classrooms would be less plagued by fatherless lads whose ambition it is to cause nothing but trouble.
I suppose there are other ways we could try to tackle the problem. We could make it a lot less convenient for girls to get into trouble - and one obvious way is to overhaul the benefits system.
When it comes to receiving welfare, girls of 16 are treated as adults (though legally they can't vote or drink), and their parents have no legal obligation to house or support them.
If they won't or can't, then the State must. Putting that age up by a year or two might work wonders.
Then again, the recent law that allows a mother to claim benefits only until her child is six could be repealed because at present it can only encourage her to have another baby in order to keep on claiming benefits. And who wouldn't?
"Getting a job" sounds good - but what kind of local minimum wage job is the unfortunate mother likely to get anyway?
Theory and practice are so different. Another issue is that though many young girls "love babies", they dislike the children they grow up to be. Rearing a child is a lot more difficult than "having a baby".
Watch young mothers slap their troublesome offspring in the supermarket and see what I mean. Because you wanted a baby does not mean you wanted a child - with its separate, possibly difficult personality.
So the children of teenage mothers can suffer, too.
Not having babies takes intelligence, planning, prudence and boring appointments with doctors. The morning-after pill helps, but still means an inquisition from your friendly (or not-so-friendly) neighbourhood pharmacist.
So what do we do? Deprive potential children of life by sterilising a few hundred thousand girls society has decided are "too young" to breed, regardless of their biological capabilities?
Go for the quality of child they might produce in their 20s or 30s, rather than the quantity they could create if they start at 14? That, let's face it, is what's up for discussion.
There is, I admit, a dreadful gender unfairness in the suggestion that teenage girls should be sterilised. Shouldn't boys under 17 have their tubes tied, too? It takes two to make a baby.
What's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. Perhaps the Government should start thinking about how that would work.
I wonder what birthday cards for 18-year-olds will look like in future? "I've got the key of the door, never been able to breed before!"
Since science has now devised a way of stopping girls getting pregnant without damaging their longterm reproductive health, the idea of enforcing sterility on girls under 17 seems to me a least worst option.
•Fay Weldon's novel The Spa Decameron is published by Quercus, and her non-fiction book What Makes Women Happy by Harper Perennial, both £7.99.