Belfast Telegraph

Community rallies round to support family of girl made pregnant aged 12

By Deborah McAleese

The community in west Belfast has rallied around a 12-year-old girl and her family after it emerged that she has become pregnant.

A 19-year-old man was arrested last week after the pregnancy was brought to the attention of police.

He has been released on bail pending further inquiries and medical tests.

The child's family is said to have been left "shocked" and "devastated" by the pregnancy. However, it is understood they have welcomed the support they have received from the community and police.

"This little girl is just a baby herself. The wider family is understandable devastated. It has come as a massive shock. I think the child's grandmother has taken is badly," a local representative said.

"There is a lot of goodwill and support from within the local area so I am sure that is of some help. I think the police have been supportive too."

Another resident said: "Rumours have been going around for a few days now. Everyone's been talking about it. I didn't know if it was true or not. That poor girl. Her family must be going up the walls."

If the 19-year-old man is found to have had sexual relations with the child, he could face a charge of rape.

It is a criminal offence to engage in any sexual activity with a child aged under 13 years of age, with a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.

Where the sexual activity involves rape, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

The age of consent in Northern Ireland is 16.

The number of teenage girls to give birth in Northern Ireland has been steadily decreasing in recent years.

Statistics from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency show that last year 839 children were born to teenage mothers. This was the lowest on record. And the vast majority of those (98%) were to mothers aged 16 and over.

Last year, 107 teenagers from Northern Ireland had a legal abortion in England, according to UK Government statistics.

In July, a north Belfast woman became one of the UK's youngest grandmothers when her 15-year-old daughter gave birth. The 30-year-old mother-of-two was reportedly "over the moon" following the birth of her granddaughter.

Last year, a 12-year-old girl in London gave birth to a child after she became pregnant while still at primary school at the age of 11. Her boyfriend was 13 at the time.

The young mum is now back at school and said to be getting top marks. She leaves her daughter with her mother, who is still only 28, to look after while she attends lessons.

Heather Low, of the Family Planning Association, said it can be an emotional time for parents who find out their daughter or son's partner is pregnant.

"It's important to get support. Chances are that your child didn't plan this and they will be feeling scared and anxious about what to do," said Ms Low.

The Family Planning Association's pregnancy choices counselling service is a safe space for pregnant women and girls to talk through their feelings and options.

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