WE refer to your report on the problem of our rising teen pregnancy of over 18,000 for 2011 (The Star, Sept 22).
These statistics are a terrible indictment on the quality of our reproductive health policies, especially relating to teen girls.
Solving this problem should be a priority if we realise the impact a teen pregnancy has on any girl’s future potential.
Usually, this means an abrupt end to her education, affecting future job opportunities and a fulfilling career. Instead, this teen mum would go into a ‘shot-gun’ marriage under duress, which, in all likelihood will not last.
Thus the fact that about 1/3 of these teens concerned are ‘married’ does not mitigate the fact that their future options are severely limited in comparison to their peers in school.
We all know that when a teen gets an unintended pregnancy, probably comprising 99% of all such pregnancies, she would be faced with four options. They are:
> Keep the pregnancy and get the child adopted (baby hatch is a help);
> Keep the pregnancy get married to the father under duress;
> Seek an induced abortion that is hopefully safe and affordable; and,
d) If all options are closed, in desperation, ‘dump’ or kill the baby at birth.
Society and the authorities must recognise this reality in the options facing these girls once she becomes pregnant.
Unfortunately, the authorities have failed these young girls in several areas. They are:
> Sex education in schools is still weak, usually emphasising abstinence and ignoring contraception, abortion and STIs;
> Our youth health services is still rather negative about giving advice on and providing contraception to singles; and
> Safe abortion services, which are legal and available, are still difficult to access because of the continuing perception that it is an illegal procedure.
This is despite an amendment to the Penal Code in 1989. Abortions are not available in most public hospitals but only available in private medical facilities, often as a clandestine procedure, sometimes at exorbitant fees.
Malaysia is committed to achieve the Millenium Development Goals agreed to by all UN members at the Millenium Summit in 2000 to be achieved by 2015.
Among the indicators used to measure progress is goal 5b which is a 50% reduction in teen pregnancies in the country, recognising the negative impact it has on a girl’s life.
Unless we address the weaknesses above we shall definitely fall short in achieving this goal.
However, even in countries with the best sex education and contraceptive services, the need for abortion services remains a reality.
A perfect contraceptive method has not yet been discovered and there are many other reasons why unintended pregnancies continue to occur.
Demographic experts have estimated the number of abortions in Malaysia as between 90,000 and 100,000. And worldwide studies estimate that more than 40% of all pregnancies are not planned and 1/3 of these seek an induced abortion. Unfortunately, in most of Asia, poor access to safe abortions continues due to multiple factors from the legal obstacles, high fees or inadequate facilities.
Thus of the 44 million abortions done annually worlwide almost half are considered ‘unsafe’ resulting in 47,000 deaths annually.
Women’s rights groups around the world are now giving full recognition to the negative impact unsafe abortions have on women’s lives and have got together to declare Sept 28 as an annual date for the International Campaign for Rights to Safe Abortion.
Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance (RRAAM) and Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP) on our websites are running a petition and a blog in solidarity with our partners around the world to support the event this month at www.rraam.org and www.asap-asia.org.
DR S.P. CHOONG
Co-chair of RRAAM and Country representative of ASAP
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