As a teen mother during the early 1970s, I can attest to the extreme difficulty of having a baby at the age of 14. No teen is prepared to deal with the physical and mental reality of raising a child when she herself is still a child. Of course, I did not see it this way at the time, but today I can look back and see the mistakes and hardships that I created for both myself, and my child.
But my personal experiences aside, I cannot comprehend how we as a society can continue to allow our teens to have babies, but even more so, why aren’t we completely outraged about our preteens being sexually active and giving birth to children?
One would think it was a bad dream. The reality, however, is preteens are having babies right now in middle schools throughout the U.S., as well as many foreign countries.
In January 2011, BV Black Spin headlined an article as, 90 Girls Pregnant at Memphis Middle/High School, for the current school year, and explaining that, “Last year, more than 2,100 girls ages 10 to 19 gave birth in Shelby County in Memphis, Tenn., where the residents are predominately black and poor. Researchers say Shelby County's teen pregnancy rate is 25 percent higher than New Orleans and twice that of Louisville, Ky.”
In May 2011, KHOU in Houston, Texas reported on the alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old Latina girl in Cleveland, Texas, with “17 people facing rape and assault charges for the alleged gang rape that occurred inside of an abandoned mobile home and police say more arrests may come. After threats and phone calls, Child Protective Services put the girl in a foster home for her own safety.” Hopefully, this child will not have to face a preteen pregnancy because of this attack. But it’s much too early to tell.
In 2010, several media outlets reported on this tragic trend and its outcome. A Fox News story reported about an 11-year-old girl from the Northeast region of the U.S., who gave birth to a baby boy in February 2010. Although the child was born healthy, Dr. Abdulla Al-Khan, a leading high-risk obstetrician noted, “This case is not about a teenager, it’s about a pre-teen whose body is not yet built to carry a child. Her body is clearly not defined for pregnancy with its short stature. Her chest is not extensively developed for breast tissue, her bones aren't quite fused, and once you expose a child this young to high amounts of progesterone and especially estrogen, there is (a possibility) that it could halt her growth."
Also, in February 2010, the Huffington Post reported on a nine-year-old girl from China, who gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The story reported that Chinese police were still investigating to find out who fathered the baby, and charge that person with rape.
Another Fox News exclusive in April 2010 said that, “An 11-year-old girl in Mexico allegedly raped by her stepfather and now more than four months pregnant says she wants to have his baby – despite pressure from women’s groups who want her to have an abortion, pro-life activists in the country say.”
A 2009 YouTube video of a KDIK Eyewitness News report in Idaho discussed a Latino 9-year-old getting pregnant and delivering a healthy full-term baby at age 10. The baby is the product of an alleged rape by the girl’s stepfather.
So how is it that 9 and 11 year-old girls can become pregnant in the first place? Aren’t they too young to have begun the cycle of puberty? And what about boys this age, aren’t they too young to have viable sperm?
Actually, the answer to all of these questions is “No” because of a condition called precocious puberty. Kids Health says that normal puberty begins to happen “no earlier than about 7 to 8 years of age for girls and 9 years of age for boys (the average age is about 10 for girls and 12 for boys).” However, precocious puberty is another story because it can start “before age 7 or 8 in girls and age 9 in boys — can be physically and emotionally difficult for kids and can sometimes be the sign of an underlying health problem.”
Dr. Frank Biro, M.D., director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and lead author of a study published in the journal Pediatrics, explained to CNN that, “More than 10 percent of white 7-year-old girls in the study, which was conducted in the mid-2000s, had reached a stage of breast development marking the start of puberty, compared to just 5 percent in a similar study conducted in the early 1990s. Black and Hispanic girls continue to mature faster than white girls, on average. Nearly one-quarter of black girls and 15 percent of Hispanic girls had entered puberty by age 7.”
The story added that regardless of race or ethnicity, obesity appears to be a contributing factor in early onset puberty. “Experts aren't sure what's behind the increase in earlier puberty, but it's likely due to a combination of factors, including the childhood obesity epidemic and substances in the environment.” Studies also show that “girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to develop breast and uterine cancer later in life.”
Another terrifying factor to middle school sex besides pregnancy is the high occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases, including high numbers for HIV/Aids. Not only are these children having babies before they become teenagers, they are also in some instances, sentencing themselves to a lifetime of drug therapies to prevent Aids. A study by the CDC found that, “Young people in the United States are at persistent risk for HIV infection, which is especially notable for youth of minority races and ethnicities.” The 2004 study, based on young people ages 13-24 indicated:
- African Americans were disproportionately affected by HIV infection; accounting for 55 percent of all HIV infections reported among persons aged 13–24.
- Young men who have sex with men (MSM), especially those of minority races or ethnicities, were at high risk for HIV infection. In the seven sites that participated in CDC’s Young Men’s Survey during 1994–1998, 14 percent of African American MSM and 7 percent of Hispanic MSM aged 15–22 were infected with HIV.
- During 2001–2004, in the 33 states with long-term, confidential name-based HIV reporting, 62 percent of the 17,824 persons 13–24 years of age given a diagnoses of HIV/AIDS were males, and 38 percent were females.
Unfortunately, as illustrated throughout this article, some of these very young pregnancies are the result of rape perpetrated by family members and strangers alike. However, in some instances, the documentation shows that girls and boys in their preteen years are sexually active even though in most cases they don’t have any concept of the true consequences of their actions.
But, we can hardly blame the teens, and now preteens. The continuing, and now expanding, trend of babies having babies rests squarely with adults: parents, extended family members, teachers, social workers, law-enforcement officials, and other caring adults who encounter and observe children that could be at risk.
The education process about what it means to become pregnant, the attending consequences, and associated responsibilities must begin early, reiterated, and reinforced at every opportunity.
Adult vigilance and support is ongoing and the responsibility of us all. The future moral, physical, and economic health of our society depends upon it.