The sight of little Alfie Patten cuddling what he claims is his baby daughter has dominated newspapers and television programmes in recent days.
His is a picture that sends a shudder through every parent. Not only is he merely 13 years of age — he was 12 when the baby was conceived — but he looks several years younger. It is almost inconceivable to most people that he should be a father, but his story is a parable of life in modern Britain.
It is well known that the UK has the worst record on teenage pregnancies in western Europe and second only to the USA in the western world.
The rate of young girls becoming pregnant and/or having abortions in the UK is six times that of the Netherlands, nearly three times that of France and twice that of Germany. While the rates may be falling, it is apparent that much remains to be done to change the moral outlook of the nation.
Only a generation ago in Northern Ireland children born out of wedlock were often reared by grandparents as their own to avoid shame falling on the mother. There was a stigma attached to what were regarded as illegitimate births.
That, of course, was not the appropriate response, but neither is that which has accompanied the birth of the child in this case. The families of Alfie and his girlfriend Chantelle Stedman, who it must be remembered is only 15, although she looks older when compared to Alfie, are prepared to talk about the relationship. Indeed, it is reported that Alfie’s father is seeking advice from high profile publicist Max Clifford on how to maximise exposure.
As if it was not startling enough that two children of such tender years are the parents of a baby, two other teenage boys, one aged 14, the other 16, are claiming paternity of the child.
Although Chantelle says that Alfie has been her only boyfriend, her reputation is now being dragged through the mud very publicly. There must surely be a warning in this for every other young girl who finds herself pregnant and who may be tempted to court the limelight for whatever reason.
While much effort has been put into devising sex education lessons for even quite young children, it is clear that the message is not getting through clearly. Much of the education seems to be on the mechanics of reproduction with less emphasis put on the desirability of sex being confined to a loving and adult relationship. Sex is portrayed as simply an |enjoyable activity which might have unwanted side effects such as pregnancy or disease.
Alfie and his girlfriend are two very young people with little or no understanding of what being a parent means. Indeed, how could they, being only children themselves.
Ideally, their own parents should now be stepping in to help them through this period in their lives and to ensure that the baby girl is properly and safely looked after. If they are unable to do so, then social services should intervene to protect all three children.
Even in these most unusual of circumstances, the birth of this little girl should not continue to be some sort of circus for the entertainment of an incredulous onlooking world.