For Thai teens, Cupid's arrow can be poison-tipped

opinion February 13, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

2,925 Viewed

This Valentine's Day will bring another leap in accidental teenage pregnancies; we need proper sex education to tackle a problem that is ruining too many lives

Valentine’s Day tomorrow will see the usual warnings from authorities about the problem of unplanned pregnancies among teenagers. The concern is sparked because young lovers often associate the occasion with sex. According to a recent survey, almost 32 per cent of teenage boys said they saw Valentine’s Day as a good occasion to have sex with their girlfriends for the first time.
But Thailand’s inadequate sex education means that many such encounters lead to unplanned pregnancies. Last year 54 out of every 100,000 girls under the age of 18 became pregnant – a far higher ratio than the World Health Organisation average of 15 per 100,000, according to Mathurada Suwannapho, director of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Rajanagarindra Institute. The figures among even younger girls are equally shocking. Citing a report by the Thai Health Department’s Bureau of Reproductive Health, Mathurada says 3,725 girls under the age of 15 gave birth in 2012.
Teenage pregnancies lead to a comparatively high rate of abortions, stillbirths and deaths of the mothers and newborns. Every year an estimated three million girls aged 15 to 19 undergo unsafe abortions, which contributes to a high rate of maternal deaths as well as lasting health problems for the mothers. 
Meanwhile, in most low- and middle-income countries, complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19. Rates of stillbirth and death among newborns are 50 per cent higher among infants of adolescent mothers than among infants of women aged 20 to 29. And babies born to adolescent mothers are more likely to be low in weight, which can have a long-term impact on their health and development.
The WHO blames high rates of teen pregnancies on adolescents’ lack of knowledge of how to avoid becoming pregnant and on the unavailability of contraceptives. “However, even where contraceptives are widely available, sexually active adolescents are less likely to use them than adults,” it says. Department of Disease Control deputy director-general Dr Somsak Akksilp notes that failure to use contraceptives (particularly condoms) has also led to high rates of sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, among teenagers in Thailand.
Parents, guardians, teachers and others responsible for the care of youngsters should try to make teens aware that they’re still too young and inexperienced to take on parenting. Youngsters who get pregnant put their academic progress at risk, having to leave school either because they’re expelled or because they must look after their child. Those from poor families are then often stuck in a cycle of poverty, unable to gain the academic qualifications that could lead to a better life. Unplanned pregnancies also lead to abortions or abandonment of newborns, which in turn causes more problems and financial burdens for society.
The problem of accidental pregnancies in Thailand will only be effectively tackled when teens get proper education about sex, the use of contraceptives, and particularly condoms, and basic family planning. Meanwhile, involvement in sports, volunteer work and academic achievement are useful ways to divert energetic teenagers’ thoughts away from sexual pursuits they might regret.