Australia’s Virtual Infant Parenting program, designed to curb teenage pregnancy by showing the difficulties of having a baby through robot babies, is ineffective, a new study shows. According to the Telethon Kids Institute’s findings, the program actually increased teenage pregnancy instead of decreasing it.
Australia has the sixth highest teen pregnancy rate out of 21 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations. The program was introduced to ensure this ranking drops.
The research team found that 17 percent of the 3,000 Western Australian female students aged 13 to 15 who participated in the program between 2003 and 2006 got pregnant before reaching the age of 20. Experts thought that giving them infant stimulators, which also exhibited crying and other lifelike infant behaviors, for a weekend would reduce the pregnancy rate but they found these students fared worse than those who only participated in the standard health education curriculum.
Meanwhile, the control group who underwent the standard health education curriculum only had 11 percent rate of teenage pregnancy. The findings are now published in the journal Lancet.
Lead researcher Sally Brinkman asserts that the program’s failure was already clear from the beginning, so they stopped it in 2007. However, they were only able to finalize the research results now. According to Brinkman, this demonstrates that even programs with good intentions could still lead to negative consequences.
The researchers believe that the program only targeted girls. They also think that the girls perceived teenage pregnancy positively because they got attention from their families and peers. Julie Quinlivan, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Australia, says that robot babies can manifest the effects of having a real child.
Brinkman adds that the program’s failure indicates that intervention-based programs must still be evaluated scientifically before introducing them. Hopefully, this failure could be a lesson for policymakers who wish to introduce programs that aim to reduce teenage pregnancy in Australia.