LARGE numbers of teenage sweethearts would have celebrated Valentine's Day together on Saturday, oblivious to the concern of their parents and the authorities: will they end up having sex?
Chastity is promoted over premarital sex for many reasons. Thailand has long valued virginity. Also, the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies are high among the country’s major social problems.
Such facts explain why several agencies campaigned hard last week to encourage teenagers to mark the season of love with a special meal and nothing more. This happens so predictably every year that it has become an issue to be laughed about.
Questions are raised: should relevant parties rethink their approach towards sex education for teenagers now?
“Circumstances have been changing. We can’t just stick to the old approach,” Nakorn Santiyothin of the Suankularb Wittayalai School told a Thai-language newspaper on one occasion, “Back in the old days, we might just teach students not to engage in premarital sex. But we definitely can’t use that old tactic today when so many teenagers will be quick to live together after a brief dating”.
She believed the best teachers could do for their students, in regard to this sensitive issue, was to provide adequate and comprehensive information. “The rest then depends on students. After being well informed, they should decide for themselves whether they are ready for sex,” she said.
The Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) also believes it is now necessary to provide sex education right from Prathom 6 level to Mathayom 6 or equivalent. That’s why it has worked with various authorities in preparing a manual on how to teach sex-related issues to Thai youth.
Proper sex education at least will tell teenagers what they should do in their everyday lives and, if they want, in their sex lives. Safe sex will prevent people from contracting sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and unwanted pregnancies. Safe sex will also ease many social problems likely to arise if children grow up when their parents are not really ready for the change.
According to the Mental Health Department, Thailand is now ranked 15th in Asia and 5th in Southeast Asia when it comes to teenage pregnancies. At present, the average figure is 52 pregnancies per 1,000 females aged between 15 and 19 years old in Thailand. It is higher than the average of 50:1,000 across the globe.
In some areas such as Bangkok, the ratio of teenage pregnancies reaches around 75 among every 1,000.
Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin has said that in 2013 about nine girls aged under 15 years gave birth to babies each day. He considered the problem so serious his ministry and agencies, including the Education and Culture ministries, have come up with a strategy to avoid teenage pregnancies.
Launched this year, the campaign will be in place till 2024.
A key element will be to equip teenagers with life skills, including sex education.
The Public Health Ministry has also come up with a national condom campaign in a bid to boost information about the use of condoms. With condoms, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies are preventable.
AIDS Access Foundation’s director Nimit Tien-udom has supported the installation of condom-vending machines at secondary schools, as well as vocational schools.
“We can’t ignore the fact that many students have sex without telling their parents,” he said, pointing out that some were infected by HIV while aged just 14 and 15 years old.
The Health Ministry says many condom-vending machines are already in male restrooms at vocational schools. From this project, it is clear that an increasing number of students have chosen to use condoms.
But Office of Basic Education Commission secretary-general Kamol Rodklai has insisted he will never allow the machines at schools supervised by his agencies. He described them as a |double-edged sword, saying if students see such machines at schools, they may be encouraged to have premarital sex.
Although Kamol’s argument is not completely groundless, one should never forget that Thais’ attitudes towards sex have perhaps changed rapidly over recent decades. Many magazines and websites openly talk about sex. The issue has become so common in daily life that adults will no longer be able to hide it from teenagers or even children until they reach maturity.
Government agencies, especially those at the Education Ministry, should realise that instead of trying to sweep such an issue under the carpet, they should find proper ways to address it. Give children the right information, the adequate sex education, so that they have immunity against all temptation and risks.
Naivety can be harmful. Give Thai children a shield.