Carolina Darbisi has a formidable task: getting Latin American immigrants to talk to their kids about sex. But she has found one statistic weighty enough to smash cultural taboos against discussing the subject.
Of every 10 Latinas in Georgia, she tells parents, six get pregnant before turning 20, according to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.
That gets their attention. “I say, ‘How many daughters do you have?’ “ said Darbisi, who visits parents in schools and apartment complexes in Gainesville for the nonprofit group, which is known as G-CAPP. “They say, ‘Oh yeah. So my daughters are [included] in that number.’”
Newcomers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America have made Georgia home to one of the nation’s fastest-growing Latino populations over the past decade. Some have arrived from villages that place a high value on motherhood, even at a young age. Others, many in the United States illegally, find themselves in difficult circumstances far from support networks back home. Alarmed Latino activists say the result is something that can hamstring those families in America: a soaring teen pregnancy rate.
The pregnancy rate for Hispanics ages 15-19 leaped 58 percent between 1994 and 2003 in Georgia, even as the figure for both white teens and black teens fell more than 32 percent, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Human Resources. The pregnancy rate for Latinas in Georgia was second only to that in North Carolina in 2000, and is now about double the national average for the ethnic group.
About one in six Hispanic girls 15-19 got pregnant in Georgia during 2003, according to the state figures. The same rate held in Cobb County. But the figure was substantially higher in several other metro Atlanta counties. Roughly one in five Hispanic girls in that age range got pregnant in DeKalb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties during 2003. In Fulton, the rate was nearly one in four.
Maria Francis, administrator of the Norcross maternity clinic and three other clinics north of Atlanta, said plenty of the girls who walk through her doors are struggling with addiction or depression. A baby gives them a sense of importance, Francis said. “A lot of them think it’s cool,” she said. “They say, ‘My girlfriend has done it and she’s only a year older than me.’ ”