Can Robotic Babies Help Prevent Teenage Pregnancies?

One in five Colombian mothers is a teenager. This program seeks to reduce early pregnancies by having youths spend time with some very needy dolls.

At 3 a.m. Sara Gómez, 13, cares for her robotic baby at her home in Guamal, Colombia. Designed to mimic month-old infants, the babies help students learn about parenthood.

Jefrin Bayona is already running late for school and it’s just after 6 a.m. “I barely slept last night,” the 15-year-old student says. “The baby woke me up at 10, 12, four in the morning.” Classes start early here in the rural plains of northeastern Colombia. Standing in the dark kitchen of his home, Jefrin drags a hand down his tired face between sips of hot chocolate. Estiven, his infant son, silently sits in a baby carrier on the sparse living room floor.

Fortunately for Jefrin his early foray into fatherhood ends today. He’s participating in an immersive school program that aims to prevent teenage pregnancy. “Estiven” is actually a robotic baby designed to simulate a needy one-month-old—crying at programmed intervals day and night to provoke students to feed and burp the baby and change its diaper. The responses are tracked and recorded, and students are graded on how quickly they react. A baby left unattended for too long will shut down, affecting the student’s grade.

Jefrin has taken care of the baby for the past 48 hours, and the typically outgoing and buoyant teen is clearly exhausted. He arrives at school five minutes after the bell and hands the baby off to fellow student, and designated mother, Alexandra Guerrero, 15, for the next two-day shift.

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