Teen pregnancy perfectly natural, says Hilary Mantel
The Wolf Hall author has attacked the political consensus that teenage pregnancy is a bad thing
The Booker prizewinning novelist Hilary Mantel has challenged the consensus in British politics that teenage pregnancies are a bad thing by saying she might have had a child when she was 14 if society was more women friendly.
Last week, the government admitted that, despite a 13 per cent fall in the number of teenage girls falling pregnant in the past ten years, it had failed in its target to cut the rate by half. Schools secretary Ed Balls spoke for most when he said of the slight fall in teenage pregnancies: "It is not enough. I'm still worried about it and there is a lot more to do."
His attitude suggests little has changed in the way the political elite sees the issue since Tony Blair, launching the £280m campaign to halve the rate of teenage pregnancies in 1999, called the 46,000 girls who were falling pregnant every year "shameful".
But in an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, Hilary Mantel, who won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for her novel Wolf Hall, suggested that far from being shameful, having a baby in your teenage years is entirely natural.
"I was perfectly capable of setting up and running a home when I was 14," she said, "and if, say, it had been ordered differently, I might have thought 'Now is the time to have a couple of children and when I am 30 I will go back and I'll get my PhD.'"
Mantel suggested that society is too male-centric and that it is men who want to have children when they are older. "Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society's timetable," she said.
Mantel's intervention was met with near-universal criticism, with Sue MacDonald of the Royal College of Midwives telling the Daily Telegraph: "Having a baby is a life-changing experience and 14-year-olds have enough to cope with just being 14."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Teenage parents and their children are more likely to suffer health, emotional and economic problems than their peers."
However, one person who may agree with Mantel is Jasmine Guinness, a model and heiress to the Guinness brewing fortune. On BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live at the weekend, she described her mother, who was 17 when she was born, and her 19-year-old father as "the most fun, amazing parents". Apparently she also remembers her mother's 21st birthday. These are the perks of being the child of an (admittedly very wealthy) teenager that the politicians have so far overlooked. ·
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