The aggressive enforcement of statutory rape laws may be far less effective in reducing teenage pregnancy than Congress envisioned six months ago when it urged states to crack down on “predatory” men as part of the welfare reform law.
This is because only 8 percent of all births to 15- to 19-year-olds would be covered by statutory rape laws, according to a new survey of birth data.
Earlier studies had shown that more than half of all children born to teenage mothers were fathered by adult men. This finding led Congress to call for stricter enforcement of statutory rape laws, and to deplore “predatory sexual practices by men who are significantly older” than their partners.
The new study, conducted by researchers at the Urban Institute, found that nearly two-thirds of all teenagers who have babies are 18 or 19 years old, too old to be covered by statutory rape laws in any state.
Moreover, the study found, some of the fathers were only a year or two older than the teenage mothers. Statutory rape laws typically require a five-year age difference between the mother and father, according to Laura Lindberg, one of four co-authors of the report to be published today in Family Planning Perspectives. Also, some of the couples were married when the child was born.
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