Hispanics Drive Teen Birthrate

By Mariana Minaya
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007

The growing number of young Hispanic mothers is the primary cause for an uptick in Montgomery County's teen pregnancies, according to state statistics presented yesterday to county leaders.

In the county, which has one of the lowest overall birthrates in the United States, the birthrate increased 16 percent from 2002 to 2005 among all women 15 to 19, according to a report by county staff. In the same period, births for women in that age group dropped nationally and statewide.

Births among Hispanic women 18 to 19, which have particularly driven the growth in teen pregnancies in Montgomery, have increased more than 30 percent in the past decade, according to the report.

"The statistics are striking," said County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), chairman of the council's Health and Human Services Committee, which met yesterday with the Education Committee to discuss the numbers.

In Montgomery, births among black women 18 to 19 have declined in the past 10 years, and the birthrate for that group is nearing that of white women 18 to 19, the report said. Exact data were not available.

Committee members listened to testimony from social service advocates and others who pointed to a variety of factors for the growing numbers in the Latino community.

Candace Kattar, executive director of Identity Inc., a nonprofit group in Gaithersburg that serves Latinos, said low-income and undocumented teen moms often might not see pregnancy as a barrier to goals such as an education or career.

"A lot of the teen Latino moms are actually quite happy to be pregnant as teenagers," Kattar said.

A survey of Latino teens and adults by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that a significant portion of the Latino community does not see teen pregnancy in their community as a big deal, according to the Montgomery report, and only a small number thought it prevented teens from reaching their goals.

"The whole cultural piece is enormous," said Pilar Torres, executive director of Centro Familia, a Silver Spring group that promotes child care and education for Latinos. "We're not understanding why these girls are getting pregnant. It's totally different for this community."

The National Campaign survey showed that Latinas were less likely to talk to their parents about sex than other teenage girls. Advocates for curbing teen pregnancy said that more communication among parents and their children is critical.

Birth control remains a taboo topic for many Latina women visiting the Teen Connection, a Silver Spring-based clinic, said its executive director, Karen Butler-Colbert.

"These girls don't want to become pregnant, but they don't know much about contraception," she said.

Many pregnant Hispanic girls are not getting married but are staying in long-term situations similar to ones their mothers might have been in, "acompaƱadas," or accompanied relationships, Kattar said.

As the county attempts to reach out to a diversifying population, Leventhal said, the council will meet in the following months to continue the discussion.

"What I found most striking were Candace Kattar's comments about a very different mind-set," Leventhal said in an interview. "We make assumptions that these poor, uneducated girls are acting against their own best interest. Her point was that some of them were making a decision in what they think is in their own interest."

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