About 51% of Hispanic girls have babies before turning 20 in the United States
Ana Sanchez, a 15-year-old from Brownsville, Texas, should be going to school and hanging out with friends. Her main concern, though, is how to get enough money to buy food and diapers for her baby son.
"I don't have work, I had to leave school and sometimes I don't have money to buy diapers," said Sanchez.
Like many other Hispanic teenage mothers, she does not have a husband to help support her child. And, she has seen her story played out before -- in the lives of her Mexican-born mother, Maria, and her two older sisters.
As the U.S. population passed 300 million this week, some demographers noted that Hispanics account for about half of the current population growth. Many of the Hispanic women who gave birth were teenagers.
About 51 percent of Hispanic girls have babies before turning 20 in the United States, compared with 34 percent of girls nationally, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
"In the Latino community we have not made as much progress as we have in other oppressed communities", said Michael McGee, vice president for education at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Emily Rios says she "can't even count" how many girls became mothers at her high school in El Monte outside Los Angeles, where 72 percent of the population is Hispanic.
Rios was the lead actress in the award-winning movie "Quinceanera," which follows a 14-year-old from a Mexican family living in Los Angeles who finds herself pregnant before her much-awaited "quinceanera," or 15th birthday party.
"Maybe they just think it's the life that they are supposed to live," she told Reuters in an interview.
With many girls growing up in immigrant families from countries where women are encouraged to have children young, the cultural pressures are strong.
"Most Latino mothers had their children at an early age. So they think: 'If it was OK for them, why can't it be for me?'" said Neusa Gaytan, program director for the Chicago-based community group Latin Women in Action.
Most of them are Roman Catholic and less likely to use contraception or contemplate abortion, and lack sex education programs in schools with large Hispanic student populations.
Many teens grew up caring for younger siblings and are eager to have a family young, as their mothers did.
While nationwide teen birth and pregnancy rates have fallen in the United States in recent years, the reduction in teenage births has been slower among Hispanics, the country's fastest growing minority with more than 42 million people.
Hispanic teens had 83 babies per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 in 2004, compared to 63 for non-Hispanic African-Americans and 27 for non-Hispanic whites, the National Center for Health Statistics said in a study released at the end of last month.
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