TEXAS – Seventeen-year-old Yarezi Alvarado wakes up early to get her backpack ready for school – but she also has to prepare bottles for her one-year-old daughter, Kamila, who rides on the school bus with her.
“When I wake up I have to get her Pampers ready, her wipes, her milk… And mostly clothes. Because, I mean, she gets dirty,” said the Brownsville, Texas teenager.
The bus has safety seats for infants, who ride with their young mothers to Lincoln Park High School in a low-income Hispanic neighbourhood just miles from the border with Mexico.
The school takes girls and women aged 14 to 22 who are pregnant or have recently given birth. While they attend classes, a childcare centre in the same school watches the little ones. Mothers can go there to nurse their babies whenever necessary.
Knowing her daughter is nearby and is being well cared for makes a huge difference, Ms Alvarado said.
Texas is one of several conservative states that have banned abortion in the year and a half since the US Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, the ruling that for a half-century had protected American women’s abortion rights.
That reversal has made child care an increasingly sensitive issue, though one that school officials are loath to discuss.
In Texas, minors’ access to contraceptives requires authorisation from an adult, and sex education is not mandatory in schools.
‘Not a disability’
Ms Alvarado gets help from her mother, but some of her friends have faced discrimination in their old schools or rejection by family members and live with their child’s father or other relatives.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the birth rate among adolescents (aged 15 to 19) fell by 3 per cent in 2022 compared to the previous year, and is a full 78 per cent lower than the 1991 rate.
But in Texas, the birth rate among young Hispanic women was 2.4 times higher than that of young white women, according to 2021 data from the NGO Healthy Futures of Texas.
Teen pregnancies are not going to go away, said Ms Cynthia Cardenas, principal of the all-girls school in Brownsville. “It’s something that we should have a plan for.”
Inadequate access to healthcare, and low levels of education and family income can all contribute to high birth rates among teens and young women, according to the CDC.
A few former Lincoln Park students have returned years later to bring their daughters – now pregnant – to school.
“They need to be told, constantly reminded that being pregnant is not a disability, it’s a condition, it’s a nine-month condition… and you have that opportunity to be successful,” Ms Cardenas said.
The school’s daycare center now tends to 16 infants, its maximum capacity, with several others on a waiting list.
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