China's high abortion rate has triggered public concerns over sex education for young people, with experts calling for cooperation from health departments and parents to protect young women.
About 13 million abortions are carried out in the country annually, according to the technology research centre under the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
Sixty-two per cent of these abortions are performed on women aged between 20 and 29, most of whom are single. Nearly 20 per cent have had more than one abortion.
Qi Rongyi, chief physician of the gynecology and obstetrics department at a hospital in Tianjin, said, "The number of abortions performed is believed to be higher.
"This is because the statistics were collected from registered medical institutions and do not include abortions carried out at unregistered clinics."
She said the number of girls under 16 undergoing abortions is growing by 30 per cent a year at the hospital.
According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the government spent 2.47 billion yuan (S$520.7 million) on distributing contraceptives during China's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).
The country has 37 provincial-level distribution outlets involving more than 700,000 full- and part-time workers, according to the commission. The service mainly includes birth control pills, condoms and intrauterine devices.
Guo Min, from the China office of Marie Stopes International, a nongovernmental organisation specialising in sexual and reproductive health work worldwide, said, "Many young women who had abortions in our clinics said they did not know what a condom looks like."
The organisation has been working to promote healthcare support for young people and women since 1999 and built the first family planning service clinic in Qingdao, Shandong province, in 2000. To date, three such clinics have been launched in China, providing surgery and sex education for young women.
Guo said: "Most of these women are not well educated, including migrant workers, urban professionals and students. They are between 13 and 24 years old and never received any sex education. They had not heard of oral contraceptives or female condoms before."
Because these women are unmarried and worry a lot if they become pregnant, she said many do not turn to help from doctors at public hospitals but may choose small private hospitals and clinics.
In China, advertisements claiming to provide "painless abortions" are common, sending a message that abortions are an easy way out, with few consequences.
Shan Dan, an obstetrician at Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, said, "Such advertisements easily mislead women about the risks and dangers of unsafe abortions."
She said abortions increase the risk of ectopic pregnancies and also the potential for bacterial infection. Abortions also cause sterility in 2 to 5 per cent of women who have them.