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BLAIR: I'LL STOP TEEN MOTHERS SPONGING OFF THE STATE; PM's pledge GOVERNMENT TO GET TOUGH ON GIRLS WHO SEE MOTHERHOOD AS ROUTE TO MONEY AND A HOME.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE BY EMILY ANDREWS

PRIME Minister Tony Blair is cracking down on Britain's teenage pregnancy crisis after reading the Sunday Mercury's shocking story of the young Williams sisters.

Last week, we revealed how Jemma, Jade and Natasha had become pregnant at the ages of just 12, 14 and 16.

Their story sparked national outrage after we told how they and their 38 year-old mother, Julie Atkins, live on pounds 31,000 a year in benefits - with the fathers nowhere to be seen.

Now Tony Blair has promised immediate action on young girls who become pregnant while under-age and then spend a lifetime sponging off the state.

He will make a speech highlighting the growing crisis and wants to launch a national debate to persuade young women - and their boyfriends - to show more common sense when it comes to sex. The Prime Minister will urge parents, teachers, youth workers and youngsters themselves to help foster new attitudes to curb underage sex and teen pregnancies. The new initiative will please twice-divorced Mrs Atkins from Allington, Derby, who blamed her daughters' situation on the lack of school sex education and criticised the Government.

A senior Whitehall source said: 'While Tony Blair does not want to return to the oppressive days of the 1950s when young women were ostracised if they became pregnant, he does want to encourage people to be more responsible.

'If a man has sex with an under-age girl, he should be prosecuted. He should also be made to support the child.

'We want a national debate on how we can encourage youngsters to be more responsible.

'We have young women who clearly regard being a single mum as an alternative career. To some it undoubtedly has its attractions - a home, an income, and the fact that they can live on their own, free of their parents or an abusive partner.

'We want to know just what people think about the lifestyle the state affords these young women. Should these benefits be so available? Should they be so generous?

'Should a young woman be able to turn motherhood into a career of living off the state? Should a woman be entitled to state help if she refuses to identify the father?' While Mr Blair has no plans yet for new legislation, he wants to throw open the whole issue of single mums who bring up children on their own, without the support of a father.

The Government source added: 'These children grow up without any role models, no incentive, no ambition. And as soon as they become sexually active, the cycle starts all over again.' Julie Atkins refused to take any responsibility for her daughters becoming teenage mums.

She had revealed that she allowed youngest daughter Jemma to have sex with her 14 year-old boyfriend David Ryan when she was just 11.

David's family discovered that Julie allowed the under-age pair to spend the night together despite worried neighbours alerting police and social workers. His heartbroken mother Christine said: 'We had no idea they were being allowed to sleep together until he told us that Jemma was pregnant.'

Jemma, now 14, gave birth to son T-Jay in February last year. Just weeks later, older sisters Jade and Natasha discovered that they were pregnant Jade, now 15, had daughter Lita in December last year, while Natasha, now 18, gave birth to little Amani last November.

Jade, who sat her first GCSE last week, says she became pregnant after a one-night stand with another schoolboy, Ben Flitton, who is now 17. He denies responsibility Natasha still sees Amani's dad - a 38 year-old Asian gambler who lives with his parents. She says she has no plans to set up home with him and has registered with the council for a house of her own.

Mum Julie said: 'People will say I am to blame, but I am not all to blame. The school is there as well, obviously. But it is not just the school, the Government also needs to help more.'

She added: 'My girls are all excellent mums. They take care of their babies extremely well and even make their own baby food, like TV cook Jamie Oliver suggests, instead of buying the processed stuff.'

But a friend of the Williams family said: 'Julie needs to take a long, hard look at herself before she blames everyone else for the situation they are in.

'We all knew that Jemma was sleeping with her boyfriend and Julie did nothing to stop it. That's why we alerted the police and social services.

'They called at the house but Julie simply insisted it wasn't happening.'

Latest figures show that the rate of pregnancy in under-16s in England and Wales has increased further.

The UK has the highest teenage birth rate in Western Europe - twice as high as in Germany, three times as high as in France and six times as high as the Netherlands. A report by the Government's Social Exclusion Unit says low expectations of education and employment opportunities for some young people, ignorance about contraception, and mixed messages about sex from the adult world are all reasons for the crisis. They also believe that TV shows like Celebrity Love Island encourage youngsters to experiment.

The Government has promised more sex education training for teachers, but schools are only currently obliged to teach the biological 'mechanics

LET US KNOW

Do YOU know any schoolgirl mums? What do you think? Call Emily Andrews on 0121 234 5482. You can also write to Schoolgirl Mums, News Desk, Sunday Mercury, Weaman Street, Birmingham, B4 6AY or e-mail emily_andrews@mrn.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

FEEDING TIME: mum Jade, 15, with five month-old Lita; BLAME: the girls' mum Julie Atkins; KID SISTERS: schoolgirl mums Jemma, Natasha and Jade Williams with their babies; BABIES: Lita, T-Jay and Amani
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 29, 2005
Words:970
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