Thais still in denial over teenage sex

Thais still in denial over teenage sex

The alarming rate of pregnancy among Thai teenagers has been a serious and growing problem for years and yet it never attracts more than "seasonal" attention from the authorities.

It's time to break our habit of addressing the problem only during festivals such as Valentine's Day and recognise that girls are getting pregnant every day. In 2012 alone, almost 130,000 Thai teens gave birth.

The good news is that the Public Health Ministry has acknowledged this is a major problem and has stepped up efforts to curb the rising pregnancy rate among teens.

Alarmed by figures that show 5.38 per cent of those aged between 15 and 19 became pregnant in 2012, the ministry has decided to launch measures to tackle the issue, with a goal to reduce the rate to 5 per cent within two years.

Its three strategies are to provide proper sex education in schools, to set up teen clinics at state-owned hospitals and to engage local administrative bodies as well as communities to join the effort in preventing unwanted pregnancy among youngsters.

Now that the ministry has taken the lead, we can expect progress in combating this problem.

Authorities emphasise that the strategies require an integrated approach among health agencies, schools and communities.

Teenage pregnancy is not merely a health issue. Girls who get pregnant usually have to drop out of school, which effectively ends their chance of a good career and a bright future. Despite the country's overall low birth rate, the number of teenagers becoming pregnant has increased by 43 per cent in the last decade. It's time all of society pulled together to combat the problem - from parents, teachers, educators and policymakers to the teenagers themselves.

The strategies laid out by the ministry are laudable, but executing the plans is another matter.

The major obstacle is the entrenched mindset among the agencies dealing with the problem.

Many base their actions on the assumption that teens are not (or should not be) sexually active. That assumption will jeopardise the execution of the plans.

First and foremost, the ministry has to ensure that every party to the plans is in agreement over the way forward. Earlier this year, a ministry plan to install condom-vending machines in secondary schools and vocational colleges had to be scrapped after the National Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) rejected the idea.

Obec didn't see it as a solution, apparently preferring to believe that teenagers shun sex.

Sex among teenagers is also a taboo subject for many schoolteachers and parents. But denying reality will not help us find solutions.

To do so, we must eradicate the division that exists among government agencies and also acknowledge that the problem does exist.

Last but not least, youngsters must be educated on the risks of unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases.

Sex education should be extended to both boys and girls, since teenage pregnancies will not be prevented without genuine understanding of the problem among both. Installing condom machines alone will do little.

Youngsters must be made aware of their availability and given advice on how to use them.

The timeframe of two years is a short one, given that the ministry has a hard nut to crack even before the plans can be put into action.

It must convince all stakeholders to agree on the nature of the problem they face and lay aside their differences in the effort to solve it.

If any party still insists that sex education has no place in school curricula, they should be pointed towards the figures.

Thailand had 2.4 million new mothers aged 15 to 19 in 2012 and that number has grown ever since.

It's time to face up to this problem and deal with the causes. - The Nation

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