Mom at 14? Novelist Says It's the Right Age to Have a Baby

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Hilary Mantel holds a copy of her novel 'Wolf Hall' after being awarded the 2009 Man Booker prize in London on October 6, 2009. Credit: Ben Stansall, AFP/Getty Images


Your 14-year-old is ready to have a baby. So says award-winning British novelist Hilary Mantel, who caused a ruckus when she said the age at which women have children is dictated by men.

The London Telegraph reports that the hubbub erupted after an interview in Stella, the newspaper's weekend style magazine, in which Mantel, 57, discusses the natural instincts that drive procreation and says she was competent enough at age 14 to run a household.

"Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society's timetable," she tells Stella. "I think it is that men's lives have set the timetable. Men reach a sort of sexual peak when you are 20, a social peak when you are 40. There is this breed of women for whom society's timetable is completely wrong."

Mantel, who won the Man Booker Prize last year for her novel "Wolf Hall," calls society at large "incredibly hypocritical" about teenage sex.

"I was perfectly capable of setting up and running a home when I was 14, and if, say, it had been ordered differently, I might have thought 'Now is the time to have a couple of children and when I am 30 I will go back and I'll get my Ph.D.,'" she says.

Her comments sparked a vehement response on the heels of a report issued last week revealing that the British government failed to meet its goal -- set in 1999 -- of slashing the country's teen pregnancy rate in half, despite the fact that teen pregnancy rates declined by 4 percent between 2007 and 2008.

According to the Telegraph, the 2008 figures for teen births in England show that 40.4 of every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 get pregnant. Officials vowed to expand sex education and to promote the use of contraceptives, even going so far as to put condom vending machines in schools and colleges.

An unnamed spokesman for the UK's Department for Children, Schools and Families tells the Telegraph that Mantel's remarks are "completely out of line" with government policy.

"Our strategy is to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and offer age-appropriate sex education to young people. There are no plans to lower the age of consent from 16," he tells the newspaper. "Young people should delay sex until they are ready. Teenage parents and their children are more likely to suffer health, emotional and economic problems than their peers."

However, not everyone disagrees with Mantel's point of view. According to the UK's Guardian, Dr. Claire Alexander of the London School of Economics and the editor of a study titled, "Teenage Parenthood: What's the Problem," says teen mothers can be motivated to change the direction of the their lives after giving birth.

"Young parenthood can make sense and be valued and can even provide an impetus for teenage mothers and fathers to strive to provide a better life for their children," she tells the newspaper.

Related: Sex in the Media Influencing Teen Pregnancies

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.