Sex education and the age-old issue of teen pregnancy

opinion February 14, 2012 00:00

By The Nation

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The authorities are more concerened with 'morality' than equipping young people with the knowledge necessary to make good decisions themselves


Valentine’s Day should be an occasion to celebrate love and compassion. But in Thailand, this occasion is considered by some adults as a dreadful time when many young and underage girls become pregnant. The Police Department, for instance, has enforced a 10pm curfew for people aged below 18 on Valentine’s Day. At the same time, the Public Health Ministry has spent Bt60 million to buy 60 million condoms for young lovers this week.
These actions, the agencies claim, are meant to protect our teenagers from unwanted pregnancy and to promote safe sex. But they also reflect desperation on the part of the authorities. 
There is a much better alternative to helping our youth deal with sexual issues. Proper sex education is more effective in helping teenagers deal with their changing hormones and equipping them with the good judgement necessary when they become involved in a sexual encounter.
While adults and conservatives are still arguing over the proper age of consent and the “proper content” in teaching young people about their sexuality, many youngsters have already experimented sexually. Their exposure to a sex-obsessed media has driven their curiosity, and we should not be surprised about this. However, our young people still don’t have the proper experience and knowledge to be able to deal with the consequences when things go wrong. This is thanks to a lack of education on sexual matters. 
Sex education in the school curriculum is either non-effective or non-existent. There is little help on offer in response to the issues of puberty and changing bodies. Adults tend to teach their children that abstinence is best, without giving them explanations or advice about sex and relationships.
On the contrary, educators, parents and conservatives tend to stereotype the problem of underage pregnancy as a question of morality. As a result, teenage mothers are usually unfairly punished by society, even though they have committed no crime. 
Some schools do not hesitate to expel pregnant students, thus denying them the right to an education. Pregnant teens also face the wrath of their parents and neighbours for committing a disgraceful act. In many cases, these girls end up in shelters that do not have sufficient facilities or support for them to rise above the challenge. Children born to these mothers don’t have an opportunity to grow up in a supportive environment because of the lack of preparation on the part of the young mother.
Those in authority may think that a curfew will help to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But this is a naïve attitude, and the statistics show otherwise. The number of underage mothers increases every year, and the reason is because adults don’t teach young people to think for themselves.
Some conservatives still argue that sex education from an early age will encourage promiscuous sexual activity. But isn’t it more important to teach young people about their bodies and their emotions? Students should learn about the use of contraception in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Youngsters who are given a proper sex education are better able to cope with certain situations because they will have an idea of the consequences that may follow.
The best sex education should start at home, where youngsters feel free to address the questions of their curiosity with the people they trust most. It would be absolutely wrong for parents to dismiss these questions from their children.
But it is not children alone who should be educated. Some adults should be re-educated about the problem of underage pregnancy. Instead of preaching to students about morality and correct behaviour, our society has a duty to provide education for our youth, and a supportive environment when things go wrong. Young mothers are also entitled to have the opportunity to raise their children to become quality citizens of the future. 
The widespread publicity given to the government agencies’ morality campaign each Valentine’s Day reflects a general lack of understanding of the issue. They somehow contrive to belittle young romance, even though the fundamental issue is how to educate our children properly about the natural process of growing up. Adults need to learn that the best approach is to provide youngsters with sufficient information to enable them to make the right decisions for themselves.