For the first time in five years, the number of teenage pregnancies in England and Wales has risen, prompting the UK government to pump an extra £20m into schemes to help teenagers get better access to contraception and information.

But it’s already too late for Alfie Patten, the 13-year-old daddy who has become a branded symbol of the nation’s shame – of Broken Britain.

His story, coupled with the recently-released statistics, has reignited the political debate about sex education in schools, parental responsibility, and the media’s influence.

In Hollywood, teen pregnancy is sometimes given the 'feel-good' comedy treatment, as in Oscar award-winning Juno (2007).

But has laughter overshadowed reality?

Granted, Juno never pretends to be an accurate depiction of teenage life.

But it is a pregnant teen's fantasy… supportive parents, a successful adoption, and a happy ending with her boyfriend.

Abstinence-only Hollywood

To be fair, some movies have presented harsher realities of young parenthood, like the autobiographical Riding In Cars With Boys (2001), Where The Heart Is (2000), and the made-for-television film Fifteen And Pregnant (1998).

Where Hollywood falls short, however, is in making movies children can view: the duality of the situation makes it hard to produce "family-friendly" teen-pregnancy films.

This is particularly problematic because of the predominantly abstinence-only education in the US and other countries.

While Juno managed to get nods from both pro-life and pro-choice groups, most films and television shows never quite make it clear whether a condom was involved.

As Newsweek quotes Jane Brown, professor at the University of North Carolina, "What’s missing in the media’s sexual script is what happens before and after."

Small-screen teen pregnancy

However, notably, in the teen drama One Tree Hill, Nathan is adamant about using birth control, but still gets Hayley pregnant.

And when Peyton and Lucas are finally about to have sex, she murmurs: "You have protection, right?"

Lucas, whose dad fathered both him and Nathan at 17 with two 17-year-old girls, replies: "Have you met my father?"

So Hollywood may be getting somewhere. Maybe.

Statistically speaking

With an estimated 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year (44 per 1000 women), in the US, according to the Guttmacher Institute, it is about time that Hollywood begins to tackle the issue.

Though far behind the US, the UK leads Western Europe in the rate of teenage pregnancy, with twice as many teen births as both Germany and France, the BBC reports.

The media’s approach in UK has been mainly in soaps and documentaries such as Kizzy: Mum at 14 (2007, BBC3).

Bollywood, famous for producing films with virtually no physical contact between lovers, is now tackling the subject in films like Tere Sang (With You).

In Tere Sang, the pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant refuses to abort the baby – echoing a real-life situation when a 13-year-old girl in Italy was forced to have an abortion in February 2007.

The lovemaking scenes in Tere Sang follow the same trend as in Hong Kong, where the film 2 Young (2005) merely implied the sexual act responsible for the teenage pregnancy.

Art imitating life or vice versa?

Many blame Hollywood for high rates of teenage pregnancies.

But regarding the fact that Alfie's and Chantelle's families are cashing in on their story, we can say that reality also encourages such behaviour.

So where does responsibility begin and end? How much blame do we put on the teenagers, their parents… or that omnipotent media monster we all love to hate?

video by S. Fortune and A. Otto
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The script on teenage pregnancy

By: Sacha Fortune