I was surprised to read the statement by our honorable Health Minister about Pakatan Harapan’s policy with regards to the problem of teenage pregnancies as published in CodeBlue on 12th December.
Perhaps I may have missed it, but nowhere did it mention that comprehensive sexual education (CSE) is the mainstay of tackling unplanned teenage pregnancy.
Local research have shown that up to 50 per cent of our adolescents lack even basic information about reproductive health and biology. Many more are ignorant about safe sex or methods of contraception.
The percentage of sexually active adolescents using contraceptive methods during the last sexual intercourse is approximately a meagre 12%. The incidence of teenage sexual activity in schoolchildren is rising from 4.8 per cent in 2014 to 7.3 per cent in 2017.
It is not uncommon to have cases of teenage girls who had unplanned pregnancies, but yet underestimate the risk of pregnancies or are clueless about their pregnancy status till six to seven months in gestation.
Many more with unplanned pregnancies attempted abortion procuring pills from unverified or dubious sources, endangering their health or future fertility.
Teenage pregnancies are frequently associated with more negative health outcomes for both mothers and babies, compared to mothers beyond their teens.
There are many factors associated with teenage pregnancies, among the major factors being lack of sexual education, school dropouts and child marriage.
CSE that is curriculum based, providing medically accurate factual information which is age-appropriate and culturally sensitive have been shown to reduce teenage pregnancies in both the short and long-term period. In addition, CSE delays sexual debut, decreases the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and risky sexual behaviours.
Further, local research had shown that teenage sexual health information was mainly from unreliable sources such as friends, partners, the internet or mass media, and on many occasions, was false or misleading.
The Ministry of Health, which is on the receiving end of unplanned teenage births or abortions and its associated complications, needs to recognise these dire consequences that harm the health of many adolescents and to amplify its efforts in preventive strategies.
We need to recognise unplanned teenage pregnancies as a public health crisis that drains our health budget and threatens the future of many of our adolescents, their lives, and health. We cannot afford to work in silos anymore, citing that sexual education may be out of the health care purview as teenage pregnancies transcends all borders.
The need to implement an evidence-based approach is urgent and we must be relentless in our pursuits of protecting the young rather than indulge in ideas that had repeatedly failed and regretfully perpetuated the problem.
Please make it a Pakatan Harapan policy of subscribing to an evidence-based approach and implement comprehensive sexuality education without any more delay.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.