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LAST_UPDATEFri, 27 Oct 2017 9am

Survey Shows Sexual Activity Among Teens Highest In East Malaysia - A S'wak Teen Mom Shares Her Story

For illustration purposes FilePic: tengiirenews kzFor illustration purposes FilePic: tengiirenews kz

Messages and imagery suggestive of sexual intimacy are all around us in this age of global communication and the World Wide Web intruding into our private space through social media.

Teenagers with their raging hormones and growing curiosity are at a higher risk of succumbing to these temptations as they often lack the maturity and restrain to make the right judgment without proper adult guidance.

Imagine adding the burden of being responsible for another human being when you are still unable to cope with taking care of yourself.

According to the research findings of the National Population and Family Development Board, Sabah and Sarawak recorded the highest teen pregnancies with Sabah topping the list at 4,795 cases while Sarawak came second with 3,395 cases in 2014.

This troubling statistic was revealed by Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Senator Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun in her speech during the closing ceremony of “Discourse Research: Study on Risk Factors and Protection on Sexual Health and Teenager Reproduction in Sabah and Sarawak,” at hotel in Kuching on December 1, newsarawaktribune.com reports. She also pointed out that 42.9% of teenagers interviewed had been exposed to pornography and 9.9% admitted that they had sex.

It is startling to see these results that indicate that teenagers below 18 years old in East Malaysia are becoming sexually active at a younger age compared to their peers in the Peninsular. Malaysian Digest approached various stakeholders to take a closer look at this issue, getting firsthand accounts from a teenage mother from East Malaysian and NGOs involved in outreach programmes.

A Teen Mom Tells Her Story

For illustration purposes FilePic: irinnews.orgFor illustration purposes FilePic: irinnews.orgThe teenage years seem a lot more complex these days. Everything is no longer the same both physically and emotionally and teenagers already grapple with the angst of growing up, dealing disappointment, discovering heartbreak, overcoming anxiety, low self esteem and peer pressure. Then comes the earth-shattering news of an unexpected pregnancy

Anna (not her real name) from Sarawak was 14 when the nurse told her that she was pregnant. She remembers the shock on hearing the news and could not believe that she was to become a mother at such a young age.

“I was shocked and couldn’t believe it when the nurse told me that I’m four month pregnant,” she recalled.

“The thought of being a responsible mother to another human being when I couldn’t even take care of myself really frightened me.”

She further added that her parents were really disappointed when they heard the news.

“The thought of abortion never crossed my mind. Sure I made a mistake by not knowing the consequences of unprotected sex. And I don’t want to give up my baby for adoption because I couldn’t imagine giving my baby away,” she shared about the emotional trauma she went through at that time,

Now aged 20, Anna is a proud mother to her five-year-old son, Lucas. While being a full time mother, she is also a full time student at a local university. While she’s in class, her parents would look after her son.

“I had Lucas when I was 15. Life back then was not easy. The stares that people gave when they knew I have my baby in my arms when they thought that I was holding my baby brother.

“But my parents were really supportive. After finishing secondary school, I worked part-time to pay for some of Lucas’ stuff. My mom, baby-sits while I’m at work and she’s really great with him.

“Now I’m currently studying at a local university and I travel to and from home. While I’m in class, my mom would take care of him,” she told Malaysian Digest via telephone.

Anna also told us that her relationship with the baby's father pretty much ended when she told him that she was going to keep the baby.

“He never has the thought of becoming a father. He doesn’t want anything to do with me and my baby, and since then we haven't been on speaking terms,” she confessed.

Before we ended our conversation, she said that she does not condone teenage pregnancy because it has definitely not been easy since she had her son.

Nevertheless, she really believes that having Lucas has made her into a better person.

“I work hard each day to keep myself from becoming another statistic, a teen mom who failed because she had a child too young,” she declared.

Over 50% Of Teens Who Had Sex Already Tried It Before Age 14 - MOH Survey

Anna's story is sadly typical of many teenage mothers in Malaysia.

FilePic: Getty ImagesFilePic: Getty ImagesA separate survey by the Ministry of Health had also revealed that the prevalence of teenagers who had sex was 8.3% which can be translated to an estimated 172, 545 students. Among those, 50.6% of them had already experienced sexual intercourse for the first time before the age of 14 years.

Kristine Yap, Advocacy Officer (Communications) for Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) shared with Malaysian Digest her organization's experiences in dealing with teen pregnancy cases and the likely causes that contribute to the higher incidences in East Malaysia.

“The lack of awareness and education on sexual and reproductive health and rights could be the leading factor contributing to the high rate of teenage pregnancy.”

She further added “a portion of teenagers who fall pregnant in Malaysia are married."

“Poor law enforcement and loopholes in the law that allow for child marriage could also contribute to the high rate of teenage pregnancy,” she highlighted among some of the root causes.

Many other studies have also pointed to the higher incidences of child marriages, lower education levels and widespread poverty that contribute to East Malaysia's predominance in teen pregnancy cases as well as greater percentage of their teens being more promiscuous.

A study published in MCSER social sciences journal in April 2015 titled 'Are the Malaysian Adolescents’ Behavior At-Stake?' had also found that in Sabah, 7.1 per cent had married under the age of 15; and 37.7 per cent between 15 and 19 years old – the highest in Malaysia.

Lack of academic achievements also contributes to out of wedlock sexual intercourse, Khairani Omar wrote in her findings 'Adolescent Pregnancy Outcomes and Risk Factors in Malaysia' which was the result of a study conducted by Family Medicine Department, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in June 2010.

"There were significant associations between adolescent pregnancy and low education level, low socioeconomic status, being raised by a single parent, not engaging in extracurricular school activities, engaging in unsupervised activities with peers after school, and substance abuse," Khairani noted.

"Adolescent pregnancies are high-risk pregnancies. Better sexual health strategies are required to address the associated complications," she concluded.

An interesting finding of the study is that teenagers who do not involve themselves in school activities have a significantly higher chance of becoming pregnant.FilePic: funnymalaysia.netFilePic: funnymalaysia.net

The WAO also highlighted to us another research done by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Malaysia which conceded strong evidence that teenage pregnancy is associated with higher rates of poverty, with teen mothers ending up either unemployed or in low paid jobs. There are also higher instances of teen mothers in shelter homes coming from poverty-stricken families.

A review of teenage pregnancy research in Malaysia published by the Medical Journal of Malaysia (MJM) in August this year also pointed to the same root causes highlighted by WAO.

"Risk factors for teen pregnancy in the Malaysian population were found to be similar to those published in studies worldwide, namely, poverty, poor academic achievement, inadequate knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, lack of parental supervision, peer influence, and premarital sexual activity."

"Sex Education Should Start From The Family" - Sarawak NGO

While many teen mothers do admit that motherhood had helped them become better individuals but one wonders at the missed opportunities and ambitions that they had to bypass as their main priority becomes taking care of another life.

We talked to Elisa (not her real name), who runs the Human Life Service Miri, a social welfare NGO based in Sarawak about the extent of the problem and causes of high rates of teens exploring their sexuality earlier in East Malaysia.

“There are a lot of factors that lead to teenage pregnancy where typically the girl does not believe that she is precious, feel wanted and valued hence she would take her body lightly especially about sexual activity,” she told Malaysian Digest via telephone interview.

She added, “Another contributing factor would be a weak family system, parents who do not pay much attention to their children or perhaps the number of teenage pregnancy are concentrated at places in areas with single parents.”

In most cases, their parents are busy at work hence resulting in a lack of attention and supervision of their teenage children.

Due to neglect from parents or lack of boundaries and parental guidance causes teenagers to engage in premarital sex and become pregnant.

Elisa also said that parents tend to pay less attention to their children especially when they are online or on social media.

“When the parents are not at home to monitor their online activities, they could easily stumble on pornographic material and it perhaps could trigger the child to experiment,” she said.

“Sex education should start from the family,” Elisa advised.

She further explained “a good sex education comes from the loving relationship of both parents,” and “the parents are the first sex educators because if the role is given only to the school and other bodies, it does not work like it would be at home.”

For most teenagers, they see their parents as the most influential figures in their life; hence parents need to equip themselves with appropriate parenting skills.

Other than having parents with strong relationship,a good knowledge of sexual and reproductive cycle is crucial too. Having knowledge about sex and its consequences enables them to comprehend and know the risks, responsibilities and outcomes of sexual actions.

“If sex education is done at school, how much does the school know about the child? While parents know more about their own children,” she stated.

Apart from sex education, parents need to teach their young girls to say no.

“Young girls need to learn to say no towards advances made by her male friends. If she does not know how, she would think that in return for the love from her partner, she has to give herself to him.

“She doesn't know that she’s being used,” Elisa lamented.

FilePic: aljazeeraFilePic: aljazeera

WAO's Kristine also shared with Malaysian Digest outreach programmes carried out by WAO in response to the spiraling rates of teen pregnancy and baby dumping.

“WAO provides shelter services for women who are pregnant and do not get support from their partners, family or community.

“They are also given counselling and taught about their rights and how to deal with the stigma and discrimination they might face in society.

“These women are also briefed about the options available to them and their babies, so they can make informed choices on how they want to proceed with their pregnancy.

“Furthermore, WAO works with partners such as Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia to increase awareness sexual and reproductive health and rights among women, health providers, NGOs, policy makers, the media and the public through information, education and advocacy,” she shared with us

Ann Teo, vice president for Sarawak based NGO, Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) shared with Malaysian Digest the initiatives they are currently undertaking to raise awareness about teenage pregnancy from a multi-pronged approach and pointed out that the root cause is not just early premarital sex.

She highlighted that the best way is to empower rural girls so that they are able to make the right choices for themselves.

"From 2009 to 2012 SWWS was running a project entitled The Empowerment of Rural Girls (ERG) in the Miri Division of Sarawak in the areas of Baram and Marudi.

"The programme at its heart was to raise awareness among rural communities regarding the range of abuses /violence against women and children that could happen or to which they were vulnerable to, in the interior.

"In this programme we ambitiously targetted not just the adults and leaders of the communities but also worked /invited staff and teachers serving in the nearest rural schools where our programme was held (not forgetting other related agencies like the clinics and welfare dept)

"Amongst the case studies shared with the participants, was that of teen pregnancies arising from various scenarios and not just child sexual abuse, rape and even consensual relationships that fell apart.

"Needless to say we wanted (i) communities to listen more empathetically to young people and realise what the realities are today's youth face especially when away from home (ii) try to help agencies work with communities.

"As part of the 3-day training programme we introduced training modules one for primary schools (childrens' personal safety including safe touches) and one for secondary ( healthy relationships) to the teachers and staff with the hope that these modules will be sustainable.

"A copy of our Observation report can be found here https://hornbillunleashed.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/swws-erg-booklet.pdf

Anne further said that after the grants for this project had run out, they lobbied and was given permission by the State Education Dept to bring the 'Children's Personal Safety Module" to the primary schools in town.

"That has been ongoing for 2 years with about 10 schools for each year. Hence low impact awareness raising. All the more reason for a government-driven integrated and sustainable approach to sexuality education for students of different levels starting from primary," she emphasized.

--Malaysian Digest