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North Carolina Program Pays Girls a Dollar a Day Not to Get Pregnant

A dollar a day keeps the babies away.

That's the incentive behind College Bound Sisters, a program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro that aims to keep 12- to 18-year-old girls in school and baby-free.

Girls in the program attend 90-minute meetings every week at which they receive lessons in abstinence and the use of contraceptives — and they receive $7 every week they do not get pregnant. The money is deposited into a fund that's collectible when they enroll in college.

But not everyone thinks paying kids to stay childless is the right way to lower the teen pregnancy rate. They say the program sends mixed messages, specifically to parents, that incentivizing good behavior is the way to go.

"It makes me a bit uneasy," said Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "I do have mixed feelings. It's hard to pay people to do something that we think they should be doing regardless. It would be like if you didn't want young people to experiment with marijuana, you'd pay them not to do it."

Despite what he called his "gut-level queasiness" about paying girls not to get pregnant, Albert acknowledged that creative ways are needed to address the "very challenging social issue" of teen pregnancy.

The nation's teen birth rate, after declining for 14 consecutive years, has increased over the last two years and now stands at 7.2 pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls, Albert said. Furthermore, he said, three out of 10 young women become pregnant by age 20, and costs associated with teen pregnancies exceed $9 billion annually.

With those figures in mind, paying girls $365 a year to stay childless seems like a "modest investment" — especially if the program works, Albert said.

Dr. Hazel Brown, co-director of the program, said six girls of the 125 who have been enrolled for six months or longer have gotten pregnant or otherwise dropped out since it began in 1997. Funded by a grant from the state's Department of Health and Human Services, Brown said it costs about $75,000 a year to operate the program.

"We talk about abstinence, but it's not a requirement," Brown told FOXNews.com. "We teach decision-making, being responsible and avoiding pregnancy. The meetings are very interactive."

Enrollment in the program — which meets separately twice a week for two groups, ages 12-14 and 15-18 — is at capacity with 24 young women. To participate, girls must have never been pregnant, be enrolled in school, have a desire to attend college and have had a sister who gave birth before age 18.

Recent graduates have left the program with up to $3,000 saved up for college, including four young women who are set to begin their higher education in the fall.

Brown said the program is successful, and said its critics should consider the "cost of a teen getting pregnant," Brown said.

"When you can prevent one of those, you've more than paid for a program like this," she said. "We want to give them something to work toward. And without exception, our girls have come from homes that did not have someone with a college education …

"If somebody believes in you, there's no end to what a lot of people can accomplish."