Young girls exposed to electronic babies – designed to simulate the real experience of having a baby and discourage teenage pregnancy – were more likely to get pregnant, a study of Australian schools has found.
The landmark study, published in the Lancet, found that 17% of girls who used the dolls had become pregnant by the age of 20, compared with 11% of those who did not.
The electronic “Baby Think It Over” dolls were part of a Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) program run in 57 schools in Western Australia, first implemented in 2003.Similar programs, based on the US concept, are now delivered in 89 countries, despite there being no robust evidence of their effectiveness.
Researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia conducted a randomised control assessment of the VIP program and warn that the electronic babies may be an ineffective use of public funds.
Nearly 3,000 Western Australian schoolgirls aged 13 to 15 took part in the study.
The lead investigator, Dr Sally Brinkman, said the study highlighted that even the most well-intentioned programs could have “unexpected consequences”.
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