May 26, 2009

Politician criticizes reality TV show starring borrowed babies

German child advocates are throwing a tantrum about a new reality TV show. "Maturity Test" follows teenagers as they struggle to care for borrowed babies. Germany's Family Minister has also weighed in against the showGerman Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen is the latest and most prominent German child advocate to speak out against private television channel RTL's decision to go ahead with “Erwachsen auf Probe”, or "Grown-up on Probation". Von der Leyen urged RTL to either “stop the show or thoroughly re-work it.”
Yet RTL has said it will do no such thing and intends to air the first episode on June 3 as planned.
The show follows four teenage couples who have said they want to become parents. The teenagers are given a borrowed baby to care for over several days and TV crews document their struggles to change diapers and quiet temper tantrums. The show poses the question: are these teenagers really ready to take on parenthood?

Children "at risk"
Criticism from child advocates has been building in recent weeks. German child advocates say the show exploits the young children who are being loaned out to inexperienced teenagers.

“One asks oneself the entire time: what about the children? Where are their rights?” von der Leyen told Spiegel magazine.
The German parliament's commission for children issued a statement in which it chastised RTL for using children as guinea pigs and for “exploiting children in an irresponsible manner.”
The commission urged RTL not to air the series. Germany's Federation for the Protection of Children has also weighed in, saying it is "furious" at the concept, which it claims puts children at "high risk."
The show has cleared all necessary regulatory hurdles. RTL has pointed out that the babies are monitored around the clock by child psychologists and doctors to ensure that the inexperienced caregivers do no harm and that the parents are also just off camera.
“We have kept the well-being of the children, couples and parents who are participating in mind as well as the effect on our viewers,” RTL CEO Anke Schaeferkordt said. “We have taken our responsibility very seriously.”
Teen pregnancy in the spotlight
In response to recent criticism, RTL published an interview with one mother, identified as Katrin, who lent her 10-month-old son Lasse to the program. The woman said she did not fear for her son's safety.

“The trial parents managed very well, Lasse managed very well and there was always a pediatrician or someone else nearby … Lasse had so much fun during the project,” the mother said.
RTL views the show, which is an adaptation of the BBC's "The Baby Borrowers", as helping to usher in an important discussion over teen pregnancy.
Von der Leyen dismissed this rationale, saying that teen pregnancy is a topic well covered by German schools. She told Spiegel that, while teenage pregnancy is a pressing issue in the UK, it is much less of a problem in Germany. According to UNICEF statistics, German teenagers account for 13 out of each 1,000 births. In comparison, British teenagers account for 30 of 1,000 births and the United States has 52 per 1,000 births

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