Saturday, February 24, 2007

Computerized babies cry, burp at Mexican teens

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - High school students in the Mexican state of Chihuahua are being made to care for screaming, hiccuping baby dolls that run on computer chips to try to bring down the state's soaring teenage pregnancy rate.

Pairs of teenage boys and girls aged 13 to 17 have to spend two or three days tending to the computerized babies, programmed to cry for food, burp and wake up screaming at night until they are rocked back to sleep.

"You have to change their diapers, feed them and slap them on the back so they burp. They laugh, they get colic. They simulate the behaviour of a real baby," said state education official Pilar Huidobro, who is in charge of the program.

"The aim is to have a more novel way of getting young people to be really conscious of the risk of becoming fathers or mothers at a young age."

The northern border state of Chihuahua suffers from one of the highest rates of teen-age pregnancy in the country, with 20 percent of babies being born to mothers aged 19 or younger, Huidobro said.

Some of the dolls can show symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, as if they were the offspring of addicts.

The uncannily lifelike plastic dolls, called RealCare babies, are also used in programs in the United States and Britain. In Mexico, Toluca-based company Sucisa also sells them to health clinics in other parts of the country.

Students in Chihuahua are mostly horrified at the amount of work involved in looking after a baby, which they take home at night, Huidobro said.

"There's been a good response," she said. "They all agree it's not the right time for that kind of responsibility."



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