LatinaLista — In my 17 years of journalism covering issues that impact the Latino community, the saddest stories I've covered have had to do with teenage pregnancy.
Not for the fact that these young Latinas got pregnant and found themselves now as mothers because, in the majority of the interviews I've conducted over the years, there was never remorse expressed for having had a baby or even getting pregnant multiple times even before the age of 22.
I can only attribute that feeling to the strong value that exists in the Latino culture towards how we view children. In part, that may explain why Latinas make up the highest percentage of teenagers who give birth.
What made these stories sad for me was the fact that in each case the young girls, and some boys that I interviewed, were clueless about how someone got pregnant.
A friend of mine who works with high school-age Latinos in an impoverished area of a small suburb told me that she recently had a meeting with the young teenage girls in the community. She invited a doctor to come and speak about pursuing a medical career. However, she said that instead of asking career questions, all the girls began asking questions about sex.
She told me that it became quickly obvious that there was such a hunger expressed by these girls to know about how someone gets pregnant, about condoms, about sexually transmitted diseases, etc. that, at one point, the doctor was overwhelmed with all the questions.
Why all the questions by girls who should be getting this information from school or their parents? A simple answer is -- they're not.
Most schools have only been teaching an abstinence-only curriculum and in the Latino community, parental dialogue about sex education is practically non-existent.
So, it's really disappointing to hear that a Senate committee voted Tuesday night, in a very close vote, 12-11, to restore $50 million a year in federal funding for abstinence-only education.
Thankfully, that wasn't the only measure that passed:
An alternate measure offered by Democratic Sen. Max Baucus also passed. Baucus' measure, which passed 14-9, would make money available for education on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, among other things, in addition to abstinence. Lawmakers will have to reconcile the two measures, both approved during debate on a sweeping health overhaul bill, as the legislation moves forward.
The Senate vote just happens to fall during National Week of Action Focused on Sex Education. It's a campaign that is finally attracting people and organizations from all arenas who understand that providing our children with misinformation is not deterring them from having sex.
Recently, a study by the Guttmacher Institute found that most federally funded abstinence-only programs do not help delay teens' sexually activity. In contrast, the study reports comprehensive sex education programs had a positive impact and should be more widely used.
A nationwide study conducted by the University of Washington found that teens who had comprehensive sex education were less likely to become teen parents than teens who had no sex education or who were in abstinence-only programs.
However, time and time again, in state legislatures and in Washington, abstinence-only programs pass while loud objection is expressed to providing students with medically accurate and age-appropriate sexual education.
We have seen the consequences of this delusional belief that children won't find out about sex for themselves until they're married -- and it's at crisis level among young Latinas.
Before the Congress is a bill called the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act:
The REAL Act would establish the first-ever federal sex-education program: teaching teens about both abstinence and contraception and thereby helping to prevent unintended pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
There is a petition site built around the REAL Act that would send to Congress a clear message that responsible and realistic Americans want to see this kind of curriculum taught to all students.
As it stands now, the Latino community is:
Most impacted by teenage pregnancy
Has the lowest levels of higher education degrees
Has the greatest number of young children living in poverty
Has the greatest number of young Latinos and Latinas working dead-end, low-paying jobs.
To begin to reverse these trends, there must be strong advocacy for curriculum that truthfully educates about the one issue whose ramifications permeate not just the community now, but is already showing signs of negatively impacting its future as well.