A pact made by a group of teens to get pregnant and raise their babies together is at least partly behind a sudden spike in pregnancies at a high school in Massachusetts, according to school officials.
A high school health clinic in the city of Gloucester became suspicious after seeing a surge in girls seeking pregnancy tests. Local officials said nearly half of those who became pregnant appear to have entered into a pact to have their babies together over the year.
"Some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," Gloucester High School principal Joseph Sullivan told Time magazine, which broke news of the pact on its website.
Sullivan was not immediately available to comment. But local officials said at least some of the men involved in the pregnancies were in their mid-20s, including one man who appeared to be homeless. Others were boys in the school.
Superintendent Christopher Farmer confirmed the deal to WBZ-TV, saying the girls had "an agreement to get pregnant."
He said the girls are generally "girls who lack self-esteem and have a lack of love in their life."
The first reports of the students' apparent plan to get pregnant were in the Gloucester Daily Times in March, when Sullivan said students were reporting that the girls were getting pregnant on purpose.
Carolyn Kirk, mayor of the port city 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Boston, said authorities are looking at whether to pursue statutory rape charges. "We're at the very early stages of wrestling with the complexities of this problem," she said.
"But we also have to think about the boys. Some of these boys could have their lives changed. They could be in serious, serious trouble even if it was consensual because of their age -- not from what the city could do but from what the girls' families could do," she told Reuters.
Under Massachusetts law, it is a crime to have sex with anyone under the age of 16.
"At the very least these men should be held responsible for financial support, if not put in jail for statutory rape as the mayor has suggested," Greg Verga, chairman of the Gloucester School Committee, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Nationwide, teen pregnancies in the United States are showing signs of rising after steadily declining from 1991 to 2005. This trend was highlighted on Thursday when Britney Spears' 17-year-old sister Jamie Lynn, star of Nickelodeon's popular TV show "Zoey 101," gave birth to a baby girl, according to People magazine.
"The data seem to be indicating that the declines that we had seen through the 1990s are coming to a close," said David Landry, a researcher at the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based nonprofit group focusing on reproductive issues.
Birth rates for teenagers aged 15 to 17 rose by 3 percent in 2006, the first increase since 1991, according to preliminary data released in December by the National Center for Health Statistics.