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Parenting & Family

Girls ready for babies at 14, says author

Prize-winning author Hilary Mantel has sparked controversy by claiming that girls are ready to have babies at just 14 years of age.

The UK writer, who won last year's Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, suggested that society ran to a "male timetable" pressuring women to have children later in life, the UK's Daily Telegraph reported.

"Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society's timetable," she said in an interview published in the UK's Stella magazine.

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"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," she said.

"There is this breed of women for whom society's timetable is completely wrong."

The 57-year-old, who was left unable to have children after suffering from endometriosis in her twenties, said that society was "incredibly hypocritical" about teenage sex and teenage pregnancy.

"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 PhD'," she said.

"But society isn't yet ordered with that kind of flexibility. We were being educated well into our twenties, an age when part of us wanted to become mothers, probably little bits of all of us. Some were more driven than others."

However, the writer's comments met with strong criticism from health professionals.

"Having a baby is a life-changing experience and 14-year-olds have enough to cope with just being 14," the Royal College of Midwives' Sue MacDonald told the Daily Telegraph.

"Girls of that age can be physically mature but not necessarily psychologically mature to cope with being a mother. It is much harder to be a parent if your own childhood is not complete," she said.

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Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, also disagreed with Mantel. "The real issue is not the age at which women become mothers, but whether they are married to a man who is committed to supporting his wife through thick and thin," Wells told the Daily Telegraph.

"When a child enters the world without a stable family home and without both a mother and father, it's generally not such a happy event — and that is the situation that most teenage mothers find themselves in."

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