Connect to share and comment

Chile's teenage moms bring their children to school

Chile is trying to combat dropout rates by opening day care centers at high schools.

She said the day care at her school was vital. Without it, Lobos is sure that she would have dropped out. Now, her son is 1, and she is about to start 12th grade.

“They’ve taught me a lot of things here. I have spent a lot of time with the other girls with babies and we all help each other. We get together here in recess and talk. I believe a baby isn't an obstacle for studying or working. On the contrary, a child provides more satisfaction, it gives you more strength to carry on,” said the teenage mom.

Some outsiders accuse the high school of fomenting sex and teenage pregnancy by “making it easy” to have a baby. Alarcon says that is nonsense.

“We are not promoting teenage pregnancy. What we are doing is supporting these girls so they can finish school, give them tools so they can enter the labor market and be able to bring up their babies. We are just facing reality,” she said.

In fact, the school says it takes pains to prevent pregnancy among its students by regularly holding sex education workshops.

Actually, said Tamara Fuenzalida, director of this day care, having this center is the best contraceptive ever.

“Their classmates see that caring for a baby involves a huge sacrifice. These students can't go out to party at night. If their baby is sick during the night, they come to class without having slept all night. They can't go out to recess like the others because they are here with their babies. The other girls see them arrive in the morning full of bags, the baby, sometimes a stroller and an umbrella,” she said.

Other municipalities have also taken unprecedented steps to ensure these students’ education.

In the Puente Alto district in Santiago, for example, a municipal decree outlines the rights and duties of students, their families and the school during pregnancy and after childbirth, including pre- and post-natal leave, as well as a five-day leave for male students fathering a child, medical appointments, leaves for breastfeeding and illness of their child, and psychological help if necessary.

The rules even establish that pregnant students may not be prevented by their teachers from going to the bathroom whenever they wish. They also ensure that libraries offer reading material on pregnancy and self-care.

In 2009, the National Board of School Assistance and Grants sent a questionnaire to all public high schools in the country to report on the number of students who were pregnant, had babies, or were fathering a child. This was the first time a government agency gathered this kind of statistic, and found that there were more than 16,000 students currently in one of these three situations.

But despite regulations from the Education Ministry, the ways schools deal with the issue still vary significantly. "I have not seen regulations like the ones in Puente Alto in any other school,” said Juanita Aguilera, in charge of gender issues at the Education Ministry.

“It hasn't been easy, because this is a problem that society is just beginning to deal with, and many want to turn a blind eye to it," said Fuenzalida, the day care director. "There is no sex education in schools, and everyone says they oppose abortion (which is illegal in Chile), but when a girl gets pregnant, no one helps her get through school.”