Teenage pregnancies are on the rise locally. Katy Watkins, director of a Meridian Public School program called Parents to Teachers, designed to help pregnant teenagers or those who already have children, says currently there are nine pregnant teenage students in the Meridian school system and 41 others who have babies.
"At the present time, we have one student in eighth grade that has a child," said Watkins. "Moving on through to the 12th grade we have 18 ladies in the 12th grade that are either pregnant or have children. Two of them are pregnant. Sixteen of them have children."
The youngest is 12-years-old. The Parents as Teachers program is designed to give support to these youngsters so they can continue to attend school. Watkins says there is a cycle that can develop with these children.
"The young lady will give birth in ninth grade and drop out of school and then in time her baby will give birth in the ninth grade," said Watkins. "So I think it's a cycle and that's what I see as the most frustrating thing is how do we get a student to break out of that cycle?"
State Health Department statistics show 81 percent of babies born to teenagers in Mississippi are to unmarried mothers. In 1999, the latest available statistics, Lauderdale County teenagers had 190 babies. 165 of those young girls were not married. We showed the statistics to local gynecologist, Dr. Ronnye Purvis.
"I'm not surprised by those numbers whatsoever and the reason why is that if you look at the way society has changed over the past 15 to 20 years you've got teenagers sexually active as early as 12 years by some studies," said Dr. Purvis.
Health department statistics bear him out. Fifty-two percent of girls from 12 to age 19 have told the state health department they are sexually active.