HERE are the statistics on adolescent pregnancy. In developing countries, 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year.
Adolescent mothers are significantly more likely to suffer complications such as high blood pressure, severe infections and foetal problems.
A further 3.9 million adolescent girls undergo unsafe abortions annually around the world, putting their health at serious risk.
In Malaysia, research has shown that an average of 18,000 teenage girls get pregnant each year. The majority of adolescent pregnancies were unplanned and about 50% may end up in abortions. Unfortunately, Malaysia does not have any data on abortions.
Baby dumping cases have been averaging at about 100 annually for more than a decade. This equates to approximately one case every three days, and majority of the babies are found dead.
Surveys on Malaysian adolescent knowledge of reproductive health consistently show barely adequate levels of knowledge.
On the other hand, incidence of sexual activity among the young has risen dramatically from 2.3% for 13- to 17-years-old in 2014 to 7.3% in 2017.
The common features of adolescent pregnancy cases were unmarried status, low income families and school drop-outs. Strong evidence globally shows that education on health and contraception significantly reduces the incidence of adolescent unintended pregnancies. The Unesco curriculum on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is a global model of a curriculum that is effective.
The important tenets of its core teachings are based on its cultural relevance, appropriate context, gender equality and human rights. The results of such teaching have clearly shown that it delays initiation of sexual activity and decreases risky sexual behaviour as well as adolescent unintended pregnancies.
Many countries, including the United States, United Kingdom and neighbouring Thailand, have implemented CSE successfully.
Putrajaya recently launched YouTube videos for the young in a bid to teach children about sexual safety and information posters with helplines in hotspots to prevent baby dumping. This is the start of an evidence-based approach to tackle what has been plaguing our youths for decades and must truly be applauded. The Government is no longer in denial as to what truly works and needs to be implemented. There are still many more steps and strategies to be implemented, such as training of healthcare professionals, school-based teaching, community engagements, legal amendments to adolescent access to services and parental education, with each based on clear evidence of its effectiveness.
We must support our government’s efforts as these baby steps are being instituted towards a long road of recovering the lost years of our youths and ensure that no one is left behind. Walk with them, be with them and offer our hands as they negotiate the tumultuous part of their lives to be the leaders of tomorrow.
DR JOHN TEO
Obstetrician and gynaecologist