This is a typical scenario in a clinic:
A 17 years old female student comes to clinic either with her friend or boyfriend looking scared and confused. She confesses that her period is delayed or that she is pregnant and asks for advice. Often she is quite advanced in her pregnancy, sometimes even up to 5 or 6 months.
Often she does not know how she got pregnant although she will admit to having sex. Most times she will not have used any method of contraception believing her boyfriend’s assurance that he won’t get her pregnant or that he was using the withdrawal method.
This is backed up by the National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2017 showing that only 12.7% of sexually active teenagers of 13 to 17 years old actually used a condom in their last sexual encounter.
Often, she never even suspects that she is pregnant despite her period being delayed for so many months. She puts it down to stress or that sometimes her period is naturally delayed.
In biology school textbooks, pregnancy is taught but rarely signs and symptoms of pregnancy.
15 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year in developing countries. Adolescent mothers are significantly more likely to suffer complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
In Malaysia, teenage births hit an all time high of 18,000 in 2012. In 2018, it was 7,700.
Baby dumping statistics recorded by the Royal Malaysian Police averages about one baby dumped every 3 days in the last decade.
Teenage sex is on the rise with the 2017 national survey showing that 7.3% of 13 to 17 years old are sexually active.
Teenage pregnancies are the summation of teenage births, abortions & miscarriages. Malaysia does not have data on teenage abortions or miscarriages.
Some girls never make it to the clinic, naively denying the possibility of pregnancy and end up abandoning their babies when labour inevitable commences. Others order abortion pills online or from illegal sources, often brought by their boyfriends or sometimes themselves.
Some seek help from clinics for abortions while others have no choice but to continue their pregnancy in hiding and shame, with or without family support. Some girls actually go online to find anyone who wants to adopt their babies.
Most leave school prematurely, inevitably affecting their future.
Different groups of people will have different solutions to the same problem.
Some want more religious teachings, others want strict supervision of all students. They propose limiting access to the Internet or imposing curfew. Others propose not talking about sex as that will encourage teenagers to have more sex! There are also suggestions from those with first hand experience of providing care & counseling for these pregnant teenagers.
Unfortunately, people are often far removed from the problem and only hear & read about it in the media, but yet have lots of ideas about how to tackle the problems!
No one is absolutely wrong or right. What we should do is to go by facts and proven evidence of what works, and what doesn’t work.
The group of people who constantly provide care and work with teenage mothers would have greater in-depth knowledge of what are the gaps and what is needed. Their feedback should be the basis of whatever we propose rather than those who make policies, but have no inkling of what’s going on.
It is also clear from existing evidence that teaching abstinence-based methods of preventing teenage pregnancies does not reduce its numbers.
Teaching and equipping students with sex education though, does not lead to an increase sexual activities but in fact, delays sexual initiation and decrease risky behaviour.
It is a well researched fact that for those teenagers who are already sexually active, allowing them to use and access contraceptives clearly decreases teenage pregnancies.
We should then face the facts, like it or not, grab the bull by the horns to speak and implement solutions that have already shown to work. We should not indulge in whimsical idealistic ideas that have not shown to be scientifically effective.
It’s time we lift the lid of secrecy regarding teenage sex and reduce the harm caused by ignorance of what is life saving information.
Let’s talk sex and save our teenagers from unplanned pregnancies!
Dr. John Teo is a medical practitioner based in Sabah
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.