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Teen Moms and Adult Reactions

April 11, 1991

I was disturbed by the article on a child pregnant at age 11. Conspicuously absent, in my opinion, were several serious issues involving children having children.

For years I have run a program for At-Risk for Child Abuse infants and children. Most of the parents in our program are very young mothers who live under the chronic stress of impoverished, crisis-prone lives. Their infants often suffer abandonment, neglect, abuse and worse, due to the homelessness, lack of education and emotional maturity of their child mothers.

Your article depicts smiling and playful photos. What this is really about is a tragedy, and a crime.

I have helped young mothers living in abandoned autos, sleeping in phone booths with children and pregnant. The infants are conceived in parks, where they live when they are thrown out of home by alcoholic parents. One mother (16) with two toddlers, when battered by the father of her children, ran to her mother's home, only to be severely beaten by her while her children watched, screaming. Understandably, these young mothers become deeply depressed, in need of counseling they never receive. These serious problems can disrupt the bonding and nurturing so important to the development of their infants.

The crime is our failure to protect, to prosecute and to educate and act on behalf of the young mother and her innocent offspring.

Consent is irrelevant to the crime of intercourse with a minor.

The lack of prosecution of these felony crimes of child abuse is an important part of the reason we see an increase in the number of births to mothers under age 15 instead of a decline. We prosecute jaywalking and petty theft and ignore a felony. I doubt the 27-year-old was prosecuted, leaving him free to recklessly father and abuse more girls.

Repeatedly, we see 12- and 13-year-old girls pregnant again at 14 by men 10 years their senior. These cases should be prosecuted. Youngsters who have intercourse should at least be placed on probation and required to attend human sexuality and sex responsibility education classes, similar to traffic school.

Until we are as eager to prosecute in order to protect our children as we are to protect property, we will get exactly what we deserve: a $16.6-billion national bill for Aid to Dependent Children, foster care and other costs related to teen-age childbearing. We also will get another generation where one in four children lives in poverty and neglect.

Volunteers at our center assist these young families learn problem-solving skills that lead them toward self-sufficiency and better care for their children, but we have all failed our job as a responsible society, when a child pregnant at 11 still feels her own child having sex at 14 is acceptable and tolerable, when in fact it is a crime.

Sally Nava Kanarek,

Huntington Beach

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