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The Observer (UK)

Violence blamed on teenage mums

Study claims that immature young parents with poor discipline techniques are creating aggressive children

The Observer, UK,  Mark Townsend, Sunday October 16, 2005

Britain's high rate of teenage pregnancies is a principal factor in the cause of violent crime, according to a controversial report by a leading criminologist.

Speaking before the launch of one of the largest ever studies into violence, its author George Hosking said that parents under 16 were contributing to 'a cycle' of aggression that meant people were 25 times more likely to be a victim of violence than 50 years ago. His comments were denounced by many as demonising young parents.

Hosking referred to evidence that a person's propensity to violence is determined by the age of three. He said that teenage parents can lack 'emotional maturity' and misjudged attempts at discipline could lead to their children developing violent tendencies. A strong, healthy relationship between parents and babies is vital to reducing aggression, he said.

'More and more children are being born to younger parents who have no reference to draw on in how to handle a baby,' said Hosking, a clinical criminologist and chief executive of the Wave Trust, a charity dedicated to tackling the root causes of violence and which this week will unveil its nine-year study into the issue.

He added: 'Lower emotional maturity, lower emotional reserves and experience or maturity that people can draw on as parents play a role. People treated particularly badly under the age of three were more likely to go on and abuse as adults. Early intervention is required to stop a cycle of violence from developing.'

Despite government attempts to tackle teenage pregnancies, Britain still has one of the highest rates in Europe. Latest figures reveal that the rate of under-16-year-old pregnancies in England and Wales has increased.

Although Hosking said he wanted to avoid being seen as critical of parents, his views will be interpreted by some as yet another attack on teenage mothers and fathers.

Catherine Evans of the Brook Centre said: 'There is a real risk of demonising teenage parents who are doing their very best for their children. They need support rather than being undermined or criticised. Teenage parents themselves are likely to have fewer educational opportunities and that is likely to have a knock-on effect on the outcomes of their children, but I am not aware of any evidence on the effects of teenage pregnancies.'

However Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, a research group that looks into the causes of family breakdown, said: 'It certainly could be a factor. It shows the importance of addressing the high rates of out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancies that we have in this country.'

The Wave Trust report, which analysed scores of academic studies into the causes of violence, claims that people are 25 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime now compared to the Fifties. Based on official police statistics, the study calculated that in 1950 there were 47 violent offences per thousand people compared to 1,158 for 2003/2004.

Hosking, who is 61, added: 'When I was walking around in the Fifties compared with walking around now we are looking at levels of risk and violence way beyond what was present at that time.

'Comparisons are now being made using the Nineties as a yardstick, yet violence then was many, many times higher than in the Fifties. We should be looking to that decade for a normal, acceptable level of violence,' said Hosking.

The increasing risk of violence contradict the findings of the British Crime Survey, which indicates that violent crime is going down. A spokesperson at the Home Office would not comment without having seen the methodology used by the Wave Trust.

However, he said: 'The British Crime Survey is regarded internationally as the most reliable measure of trends of crime. It shows violent crime is actually falling and has reached its lowest point since 1981.'

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