Carolyn Butler's recent Washington Post article on the lack of definitive teen sex and teen pregnancy research does not ring true for young Latinas: the numbers tell their story loud and clear. Before the age of 20, 52% of Latina teens become pregnant at least once. This means that if you are a Latina teen, you are more likely than not to get pregnant. At almost twice the national average, Latinas have the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates of any major ethnic group in the United States.
What is even more alarming than the statistics is the narrative behind the numbers. A high rate of teen pregnancy among Latinas has stymied their educational attainment, limited their career opportunities, and reduced their chances for socioeconomic advancement. More than half (54%) of Hispanic teen mothers drop out of high school, compared to 34% of teen moms nationwide. Furthermore, studies have shown that a mother's educational level usually predicts the child's highest level of educational attainment.
Refusing to let these trends continue, the National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) Institute for Hispanic Health and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy convened 15 national organizations to launch an initiative that implements teen pregnancy prevention programming, policy, advocacy, and research efforts. The groups' consensus statement outlines the aims of the initiative and urges other groups, policymakers, and practitioners to answer the call for action on this much-needed teen pregnancy prevention effort.
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) has introduced the "Communities of Color Teenage Pregnancy and Prevention Act of 2010" (H.R. 5033) to address this very need. This legislation would provide funding for new and existing programs to prevent teen pregnancy in minority communities, as well as create a national multimedia educational campaign to increase public awareness of teen pregnancy prevention and the importance of promoting and building healthy relationships to prevent teen pregnancy.
Evelyn Sanchez, a 17-year-old recent high school graduate, is an example of how a strong community-based support system anchored by family involvement can prevent the pitfalls of teen pregnancy. Despite being in an environment where many of her classmates are sexually active, Evelyn has been able to avoid becoming a part of the ever-growing teen pregnancy demographic. Since the age of 12, Evelyn has been a member of the Adolescent Program at Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care, an NCLR Affiliate. She has also participated in the organization's after-school programs and is a member of the summer youth employment program Urbanitos.
The new consensus statement aims to promote community-based programs, such as the ones at Mary's Center, which take a purposeful and active approach in preventing teen pregnancy so that young women like Evelyn will no longer be the exception. Never before have national organizations made a collaborative statement and effort to reduce teen pregnancy among Latinas. Never before has the need been so great.