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Saturday, Jul 11, 2009, 8:00 am

In North Carolina, taxpayers are paying teenage girls to avoid pregnancy

By Lindsay Eanet
Many drastic measures have been taken all over the world to prevent teen pregnancy through the years, from viral video scare tactics in the U.K. to abstinence camps in Guyana.

But instead of fancy camps or graphic web miniseries, one American organization says the answer might be in providing an old-school incentive to avoid pregnancy: money.

Inside Higher Ed posted an article about College Bound Sisters, an organization based at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) that pays at-risk teenage girls - all of whom are sisters of girls who have been pregnant before age 18 and are thus at higher risk for becoming pregnant themselves - to avoid said similar circumstances.

According to the organization’s website, eligible candidates for the CBS program must be between the ages of 12-16, have a sister who has had a child before age 18, and never have been pregnant. Members attend weekly meetings at the School of Nursing at UNCG.

For each week members attend meetings, stay in school and avoid pregnancy, the organization will put $7 into each girl’s individual college fund - a dollar per day. Through CBS, a girl who begins the program at age 12 and continues until graduation could earn more than $2,000 for college. The girls are also given a $5 weekly stipend for travel to and from the meetings, which cover sexual health and pregnancy prevention. (The program also features college visits and preparation.)

Who exactly is funding this $75,000-per-year program? Answer: North Carolina taxpayers. The great majority of that annual cost comes from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, according to Laurie Smith, CBS's program manager.

There are a number of implications of a program like this. First, the program is designed to keep girls away from pregnancy, but there is nothing that addresses males’ role in teen pregnancy. The male role is ignored, which could potentially give way to the outdated stigmatic assumption that if a girl gets pregnant, it’s her own fault – letting the guy get off guilt guilt-free.

There are also the ever-present adverse effects abstinence-only education. Although the program teaches girls about contraceptives and birth control, staffers do try to promote abstinence, according to the Inside Higher Ed report.

In the Inside Higher Ed piece, Bill Alpert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, expressed mixed feelings about the program, but added that any measures to decrease the number of teen pregnancies would be welcome, as programs relating to teen pregnancy prevention annually cost taxpayers $9.1 billion.

Alpert added that one of the fundamental changes in sex education that needs to be better made is the revision of curricula “to focus on ‘relationships, not just body parts.’” Also, he said, curricula should make use of available web and social networking services that promote sexual health and responsibility.

The trouble is, Alpert said, sex educators have yet to adopt these methods and the schools often cannot afford to expand sex education as budgets get tighter and tighter. Especially in a state where schools are already underfunded, as in North Carolina.

In 2007, according to U.S. Census statistics, North Carolina ranked 31st of 50 states in number of persons with a bachelor’s degree or more, 37th in median household income and 26th in teachers’ average salaries. These figures put the state in the bottom half of the country, in terms of public education and financial standings.

These low rankings obviously impact the perpetual battle for education funding reform. But there needs to be more of a discussion as to where education funding is going, and particularly sex education funding.

Lindsay Eanet is an In These Times editorial intern and a journalism student at the University of Missouri.

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