Lifelike baby dolls that cry and are designed to stop teenage pregnancies actually INCREASE the number of underage mums, suggests new research.
The high tech baby simulators form part of sex education classes across the world and are touted as a key weapon to discourage girls from having sex.
But a new study of the programme in Australia, published in The Lancet, found girls who took part were twice as likely to get pregnant and a third more likely to have an abortion than those who didn’t.
Researchers suggested the dolls that cost around £1,000 each are in fact a waste of money in terms of preventing underage sex and unwanted pregnancies.
Dr Sally Brinkman, an Associate Professor at Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, said: “Such programmes typically include a series of education sessions in combination with ‘care’ for an infant simulator-a lifelike model that is programmed to replicate the sleeping and feeding patterns of a baby.
“The infant simulator is an example of an approach used in persuasion technology or captology.
“The use of infant simulator-based programmes is widespread in developed countries and is expanding into low-income and middle-income countries.
“Despite their popularity, little evidence is available to suggest that such programmes are effective.
“Our study shows that the pregnancy prevention programme delivered in Western Australia, which involves an infant simulator, does not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls.
“In fact, the risk of pregnancy is actually increased compared to girls who didn’t take part in the intervention”.
“Similar programmes are increasingly being offered in schools around the world, and evidence now suggests they do not have the desired long-term effect of reducing teenage pregnancy.
“These interventions are likely to be an ineffective use of public resources for pregnancy prevention.”
The study ooked at the Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) programme, an Australian adaptation of the US programme RealityWorks – often referred to as “Baby Think It Over.”
The VIP programme also involves classes warning not to smoke, drink or take drugs while pregnant, the financial costs of having a baby, sexual health, and contraception.
As part of it girls care for an infant simulator over the weekend which cries when it needs to be fed, burped, rocked or changed.
It also measures and reports on mishandling, crying time, the number of changes and general care.
Some studies have looked at the effect on girls’ intentions to get pregnant, or attitudes to pregnancy, but no randomised trials have objectively measured the impact on pregnancy.
A total of 57 schools in Western Australia took part in the study with 1,267 girls aged 13 to 15 on the VIP programme (or 1,567 given traditional sex education classes.
They girls were followed to age 20 and compared with records from hospital and abortion clinics.
It found eight per cent of girls – 97 – on the VIP programme had at least one birth, compared to 4 per cent – 67 – in the control group.
Similarly, nine per cent – 113 – had an abortion, compared to 6 per cent – 101 – in the control group.
Professor Julie Quinlivan, of the University of Notre Dame Australia, said of the findings: “The cure for teenage pregnancy is more difficult than a magic doll.
“We have to address both mothers and fathers. Programmes need to start in infancy.
“Investment in vulnerable children is needed to entice these adolescents from the path of premature parenthood into brighter futures.
“We cannot afford the quick fix, especially when it doesn’t work.”