Ireland has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the EU while births to teenage mothers remain among the highest.
Just 67% of women aged 15 to 49 use some form of contraception here, a statistic that puts Ireland fourth lowest for contraception use out of the 28 EU member states.
Britain, which has the highest rate, has a total of 82% with 80% of women using what is classed as a modern method of contraception and 94% of women saying their contraceptive needs were being met.
In Ireland by comparison the proportion using a modern form of contraception is 63% while 86% of women say their demand for contraceptives were being met.
Irish Family Planning Association chief executive Niall Behan, said public policy should move to the provision of free contraception for all. The figures form part of the UN’s Population Fund’s annual State Of World Population report for 2014 which is published today.
This year’s report is titled The Power Of 1.8 Billion and has a particular emphasis on adolescents and young adults aged 10 to 24.
According to the report, Ireland has the joint second largest percentage of young people in this age group in the EU — 19% compared to a high of 21% in Cyprus.
We also continue to have a relatively high number of births to mothers aged 15 to 19, with 14 per thousand girls in this age group every year, the tenth highest in the EU.
Bulgaria has the highest rate with 42 births per thousand girls annually and Cyprus has the lowest with four. Worldwide, the Central African Republic has the most teenage births at 229 per thousand and North Korea has the fewest with one per thousand.
Niall Behan said that the figures for Ireland needed to be viewed in the context of a historically high level of teenage mothers.
“Teenage birth rates have been falling fairly steadily here since the 1970s so this is a good news story and it is attributable to greater availability of contraception, better attitudes towards contraception, better education around sexuality in schools but there is still work to be done.
“There are still some significant barriers that need to be addressed. Even though sexuality education in schools has improved, it’s still patchy. You can have two schools the same town and one is excellent on the subject and the other is not so good. Sometimes, it’s how it’s taught as much as what is taught — whether it’s taught negatively or not.
“The other big issue for young people is that it’s not clear for them where they can access contraception if they are under the age of consent.
“They’re also unsure, because there is so much talk about child sexual abuse, whether they can even ask for contraception if they’re under 17 or if they will end up being reported,” he said.
Mr Behan said barriers also existed to adult women — the cost of contraception is the number one problem.
According to the report, Ireland has the EU’s highest fertility rate, with women having two children each on average. In the rest of the EU, the figures range from 1.3 children to 1.9.
Ireland also has the highest rate of secondary school enrolment with 100% of girls and 99% of boys of secondary school age being enrolled in classes. The worst in the EU is Romania with enrolment rates of 79% and 81%.
Life expectancy here is 83 years for women and 78 for men, the third highest and fifth highest in the EU.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved