The odds are stacked against Maisie Roxanne, the baby born last week to Alfie Patten, 13, and Chantelle Steadman, 15.

She might grow up into a happy, prosperous and well-adjusted adult. But the fate that awaits her is much more likely to be of low achievement at school, followed by unemployment and dependency on state benefits.

Alfie Patten, who likes playing computer games, might grow up into a responsible parent who stays with the mother of his child. But don’t bet on it: the statistics suggest that Alfie will follow in his father’s footsteps and walk out on his new family, probably at a much younger age.

Maisie Roxanne is statistically likely to imitate her mother and get pregnant in her teens, repeating the depressing cycle of deprivation.

Having parents who are themselves children has never been a recipe for a successful life. That is why, for most of history, there have been very severe social and economic sanctions in place to discourage it.

Having a child as an unmarried teenager spelled unmitigated disaster for girls until relatively recently. They were shunned by almost everyone in their community. There were no benefits available to such a woman, unless her parents were willing to take pity and could afford to pay for the upkeep of the child.

It was more likely that she would become a begging vagrant, drifting from parish to parish in search of sustenance, and usually not getting it.

That is why there so few teenage mothers between 1600 and the second half of the 20th century, despite the fact that the only effective contraception available was abstinence, and abortion was almost impossible.

If a girl got pregnant before she was able to support herself financially (a word which Maisie’s father says he does not understand), or was not married to someone who could support her, the most likely outcome would be that her child would die and her life would be ruined, both literally and metaphorically.

We can all be thankful that British babies almost never now die in such circumstances of misery and degradation, and that teenage mothers are never “ruined”. But that achievement has come with a cost — and the cost is the creation of incentives for teenagers to get pregnant and have babies.

Britain now provides children who have children with an array of benefits, from cash to council flats. There is no social stigma attached to having a baby as a teenager and teenage mothers are not shunned.

They are usually given as much help as possible by friends and family, and failing that by the state’s agents: doctors, social services, housing and benefits advisers.

It’s no surprise that Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. In fact, we have the highest rate in the world, with the exception of the United States. Other European countries help teenage mothers, but not to the same extent. And in almost all of them, a strong social stigma still attaches to teenage pregnancy.

In Holland, for instance, a country which has a much lower rate of teenage pregnancy, disapproval is very obvious. Girls aspire to more than a baby, because they know that having one as a teenager is going to end their chances of the kind of life they want to achieve. One result is that girls delay having sex: surveys report that the age of loss of virginity is between one and two years higher than it is in Britain.

Sex education in schools may play a role, but without incentives that lead teenagers to reach the conclusion that having unprotected sex is a serious mistake, it has no effect.

Today, all of the social pressure is in the other direction: from the relentless sexualisation of teenagers on television, in the cinema and in commercials, to the bullying from other teenagers goading their peers to prove how “grown up” they are.

My teenage daughter, for instance, finds sex education lessons laughable. They do not determine what she, or her contemporaries, choose to do.

Despite at least a decade of Government initiatives on sex education, the latest figures suggest that, after a small fall, the rate of teenage pregnancy is climbing back up again. No one, however, disputes that there are still far too many babies born to parents who are children themselves.

The most effective way to curtail the development would be the cruellest: remove all benefits from teenage mothers. But we’re not going to move the clock back to the 19th century, and nor should we.

We could, however, remove some of the benefits handed to teenage mothers. One candidate for the chop could be the automatic entitlement to go to the top of the waiting list for council housing.

Another could be to reduce the cash sums teenage mothers are paid. The point would be to make teenage pregnancy less attractive to those who think they have most to gain from it, in order to force them to think twice about risking it.

Because if we do nothing to reduce the incentives for teenage pregnancy, it will continue to proliferate.

That would mean more parents like Alfie and Chantelle and the perpetuation of disadvantage and social breakdown.

Daily Telegraph