WHEN parents find out that their 17-year-old school-going daughter is pregnant, the reaction would most probably be anger followed by murderous rage, more anger and then a feeling of failure before they finally settle down to decide how to deal with the situation and the stigma that comes with it.
Abortion may be one option they would consider. Some might finally accept the circumstances and try to marry the girl off. In other situations, relatives or others may be brought in to take care of the girl until the baby is born, and it would most probably be given up for adoption.
The girl would be confused and, worried about the wrath that would follow, might resort to all sorts of methods or medications to get rid of the pregnancy, including self-induced abortion.
Or she might conceal her pregnancy till full term, deliver the baby unassisted in a toilet, bathroom or even public park and then abandon it.
Every year, between 13,000 and 17,000 teenage births are recorded in Malaysia. For every live birth, there is an equal number of abortions or miscarriages, hence the total number of teenage pregnancies would most certainly be higher than the figures recorded.
According to police statistics, nationwide one baby is dumped every three days. In 2016, the number of abandoned babies recorded was 115.
The Fifth Malaysian Family and Population Survey conducted in 2014 showed that 2.3% of young people aged 13 to 17 years and 8.3% of those aged 18 to 24 were already sexually active.
It was also noted that basic sexual and reproductive health knowledge was at best mediocre even in age groups of up to 24 years old.
Knowledge about contraceptive methods was limited with less than 50% being aware of condoms, pills, or the rhythm procedure.
Adolescent pregnancies, which are mainly unintended, are shown to be associated with poorer outcomes for both the mother and baby.
Pre-term labour, foetal growth retardation and delay in infant development are among some of the adverse outcomes.
Unsafe abortion with its associated and, on occasion, life-threatening dangers to the mother is another adverse consequence of unintended pregnancies.
To be effective in preventing unintended teenage pregnancies, we must institute comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that not only teaches reproductive health but also pregnancy prevention methods, which is an integral part of it.
Access to contraceptives for those young people who are already sexually active is another integral component of CSE.
Every society should endeavour to address the cultural taboos surrounding sexuality among the young rather than suppressing what is a natural evolution of teenage and adolescent development, and also bridge the gender inequality gap that still exists.
Above all, we must have the political will to provide a legal and policy environment that is safe, conducive and non-judgmental for our young rather than pander to populist ideology or self-serving interest groups.
We must be brave enough to stand up and advocate for policies and ideas that have been shown to be effective globally.
Parents, communities, teachers, healthcare providers, policy makers, politicians and the Govern-ment must deliver to our nation’s greatest assets – our youths – what truly protects their health and future.
By the way, yesterday was World Contraception Day (WCD). Taking place on Sept 26 every year, WCD is a worldwide campaign centred around a vision where every pregnancy is wanted. It was launched in 2007 with the mission to improve awareness of contraception and to enable young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health.
DR JOHN TEO
Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist