Mon11202017

LAST_UPDATESun, 19 Nov 2017 10pm

Teenage Pregnancy Has Turned Into A Serious Problem – Do We Even Care?

TEENAGE pregnancy is a growing issue not just in Malaysia, but across the globe. Everyday, the number of teenage girls who become pregnant are steadily increasing, and usually these pregnancies are closely associated with a host of social and economic woes that may affect the teenagers.  

According to the Ministry of Health, some 16,528 teenage pregnancies were recorded in 2014 based on the number of adolescents that registered at government clinics. Surprising or not, this is equivalent to 50 cases of teen pregnancies per day (with three-quarters involving married teenagers). Out of the thousands of teenagers in our country who are pregnant, 85 percent of them are planned, while the rest are unplanned, statistics reveal.  

For unplanned teenage pregnancies, gathered research show that oftentimes, it occurs with lack of comprehensive sex education, which leads to unprotected and unwanted sex. Other common factors include poverty, family surrounding, chaotic lifestyle, weak parental monitoring and academic failure.

Most teenagers also fail to see the dangers and complications of having a baby at a young age, and are simply unaware of the responsibilities of becoming parents. Unfortunately for the teenagers who choose to raise their child, the scenario always seem to lead to sole motherhood, with the absentee of the father who chooses to flee away from responsibility, leaving them unmarried. As for the children of teenage parents, they often fall victim to abuse and neglect.

With that being said, what are the future prospects of these teenagers if they become pregnant and give birth while they are still in the stage of developing themselves? How are they able to cope with studies and complete high school? This is why prevention efforts must be constantly renewed and reinvented. We asked some advocates exactly what needs to be done.

Comprehensive Sex Education Is A Must

Over the years, studies have shown that abstinence-only sex education does not appear to be effective. In view of this, we need to dispel the misconception and the opposition towards the use of contraceptives. This can be achieved through comprehensive sex education, which not only stresses on abstinence but also provides information about contraceptives, and the outcomes have proven to be effective.

 Lalitha Menon is the President of Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Lalitha Menon is the President of Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) President, Lalitha Menon (pic), in an interview with Malaysian Digest, said teenage pregnancy in Malaysia is indeed a growing issue and there are various interrelated factors that lead to this problem. She absolutely agrees that comprehensive sex education is the way forward.

“There is no denying that sexual activity among teenagers is prevalent in the country, and the Government is doing nothing concrete about teenage pregnancies in the country. There has been a long-standing debate over the implementation of sex education in Malaysia.

"Sex education should have been implemented a long time ago, given the fact that teenagers nowadays are bombarded with so many uncensored information and content online. This would indirectly lead to uncontrolled communication with the opposite sex.

“The more unprotected intercourse a teenager has, the more likely teenage pregnancy will prevail," she observed.

Lalitha highlights that it is essential for girls and women especially to have good sex education, to understand their bodies better, for better family planning, and points that parents too, have a role to play in educating their children when it comes to having sex.

“With good sex education, adolescents will acknowledge the consequences of having free sex as well as learn to practice safe sex. Besides, [sex education] can also help give them proper knowledge, understand their responsibilities and be respectful towards peers of the opposite sex.

“On the other hand, parental role is of utmost importance. Whether or not Asian parents are open enough to share their sexual knowledge with their children is no longer the issue. It has come to the stage where parents should properly guide their children. They must communicate with them about sex even though it may be embarrassing or difficult for them to do so," she said.

Without comprehensive sex education to guide the youths, she added: “Teenagers will not have proper knowledge about sex which leads to unwanted pregnancies and eventually cause a wide range of interrelated social problems."

Echoing the opinions of WCC’s President, Communication Officer of Sisters in Islam (SIS) Aliah Ali told Malaysian Digest that aside from lack of proper sex education, the increase in teenage pregnancies are a result of various contributing factors, which include social surroundings and poor law enforcement. 

“To deal with teenage pregnancies in the country, SIS is working indirectly with our partners Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights (CSBR) and Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAM), discussing and promoting contraceptives from an Islamic perspective, improving access to healthcare and working towards ending child marriages,” Aliah shared.

She further added, “The lack of proper enforcement of the law - which allows for teenagers to marry, coupled with the lack of proper sex education and access to contraceptives result in the growing number of teenage pregnancies.”

“Why were these teens even given permission to marry by the courts when their main concern as teenagers should be to complete high school and ace exams?,” a worried Aliah posed the question.

When asked if implementing comprehensive sex education is a timely move in our national education system, Aliah said, “Comprehensive sex education is long overdue in Malaysia. One way to empower girls and women is to inform and educate them about their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR).

“Through SRHR awareness, both girls and boys will be able to make informed decisions before engaging in sexual relations. How would we even begin to curb the growth of teenage pregnancy if we are not even allowed to discuss the issue in schools?” she further questioned. Yu Ren Chung is the Advocacy Manager of Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) Yu Ren Chung is the Advocacy Manager of Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

Likewise, Advocacy Manager of Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) Yu Ren Chung (pic) tells Malaysian Digest, unwanted pregnancies can be prevented through ensuring women and teenagers have access to comprehensive sex education and contraceptives. 

“Age appropriate sex education is effective--it has been shown to delay sexual activity among teenagers and increase safe sex when they choose to have sex. There is no evidence that sex education increases sexual activity,” he observed.

To reduce teenage pregnancies in the country, Yu said: “Access to contraceptives must be enhanced in Malaysia. The contraceptive prevalence rate in Malaysia is low -- around 50 percent -- and it hasn't increased much since 1984.”

Pregnant At 14: A Victim Shares Her Story

To further understand teenage pregnancy from a first-hand account, Malaysian Digest reached out to a victim who opened up about her experience. Elisa (not her real name) reflected on the circumstances that led to her pregnancy and shared how the experience has affected and changed her life.

“Growing without a mother during my teenage years was daunting in many ways. My parents ended their marriage when I was just nine years old. My mother had since left my father and I, and moved to Pontian, Johor with my two younger siblings. Since then, I stayed with my father here, in Ayer Tawar, Perak, until this very day.

“At 14, due to transportation issues, I moved to a new secondary school which was closer to my house. I made lots of new friends, and I was very happy there. That was when I knew this guy, Issac, and he was my first boyfriend,” recalled the now 26-year-old.

“He was a caring and kind-hearted guy. But blame it on my immaturity, I lost my virginity to him as we started having sex, or to be more precise – unprotected sex. We met each other almost every day and we were almost inseparable. After seven months of us being together, I began to feel really weird,” Elisa recollected.

Recounting her unpleasant experience, she said: “My attendance at school got worse and I was sent to school counsellors every Monday. In those times, I became really depressed. Yet, I felt that those counselling sessions didn’t help [my attendance] in any way.”

“Aware of my condition, both mentally and physically, my cousin came to visit me one day and took me to a government clinic nearby and persuaded me to go for a medical check-up. After the check-up, the doctor told me that I was pregnant,” she said, adding that her first reaction was, “Oh my God” and couldn’t help but cry.

“I excused myself from going to classes and eventually dropped out of school. To be frank, I wasn’t aware of the consequences of having sex at such a young age. I didn’t even know the symptoms of pregnancy. I had no idea I was pregnant for quite a while,” she confessed, teary-eyed.

Elisa further recalled her father’s reaction after hearing the news, saying he was quite hesitant at first but had later decided and persuaded her to get married. Now, Elisa lives happily with her husband with two young daughters, aged 12 and 7 respectively.

Asked how the experiences she encountered have changed her life? She parted with a word of advice to all youths: “Do whatever you should do at your age and don’t go overboard. Think of the consequences before doing anything. Always restrict your desire to do something bad, especially the young generation out there.”

It’s Time To Change Our Perceptions

Like with the case of Elisa, teenagers are always out to experiment with the opposite sex, unaware of the consequences involved. Yet, it is not for us to be the judge of their actions, neither should we turn a blind eye towards this harsh reality, but instead understand why it happens and spread the awareness. 

Aliah reminds the public: “We need to change the social mentality which currently blames teenage girls while ignoring the counterpart to the teenage pregnancy occurring. 

“It is counter-productive for us to keep blaming teenage girls for teenage pregnancy without analysing the cause - that is the lack of access to healthcare, contraceptives and the absence of a comprehensive sex education.”

She then added that the Government and society should instead work to provide social and medical support to teenage girls rather than further victimising them.

“Calling teenage pregnancies a social ailment does not do teenage girls justice. Teenage girls who end up being pregnant are as much victims or better yet survivors of a system that failed to educate us on our sexual and reproductive health rights,” she concludes.

In view of this, unwanted teenage pregnancy ought to be viewed as a major issue that society should openly embrace and not be so quick to judge, for it is certainly a difficult challenge going through pregnancy as a teenager. 

- mD