MALAYSIANS need to realise that talking openly about sex is not the same as encouraging promiscuity.
Rather, it is about making our teenagers aware of what is happening with their bodies, what are the respectful ways of treating their bodies and the bodies of others, and how to act responsibly when there is a decision to engage in sexual activity.
“Parents tend to avoid discussing the issue of sex with their children. They need to realise that while it may seem embarrassing, it is very important for them to have an open and healthy discussion on sex with their children,” said Women’s Aid Organisation advocacy officer (law & policy) Lainey Lau.
“In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that comprehensive sex education increases sexual activity.”
She said it was good that the government introduced Reproductive Health and Social Education modules at certain adolescent centres, National Service Training Programmes and selected schools.
“But since the programme is still quite new, its effectiveness has not yet been studied or shown.
“The glitch here is because the government’s reproductive health programme is pro-abstinence.
“Information and access to contraception remains very limited among teenagers in Malaysia.
“Therefore, it is not surprising that there has been a rise in teenage pregnancies over the past several years.”
Lau said because these young adults lacked access to and knowledge of contraception, they ended up having unprotected sex.
“The truth is teenagers are having unprotected sex, which leads to a notable prevalence of teenage pregnancies.
“The majority of teenagers who fall pregnant in Malaysia are also married.
“Hence, the rise in teenage pregnancy is also due to poor law enforcement and loopholes in the law that allow for child marriage to take place.”
In October last year, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said that an average of 18,000 teenage girls in Malaysia got pregnant each year, 25 per cent of them out of wedlock.
The Global School-based Student Health Survey the ministry conducted in 2012 involving teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 revealed that 50.4 per cent of them admitted to having had sex for the first time before reaching the age of 14.
It has been reported that Sarawak and Sabah had the highest rates of teenage pregnancies.
OrphanCare trustee Noraini Hashim said she agreed that sexual health education should no longer be treated as a taboo subject, either by schools or parents.
“Parents and caregivers need to be more open and communicative with their children, including on sex education.
“They need to guide them to have self-respect and to choose suitable friends who share the same values.”
She said if parents were open and truthful, it was more likely that the child would turn to them if he or she had doubts about any issue.
“Children must be taught to say no to unreasonable demands made by their peers without feeling pressured.”
Noraini said based on a reproductive health awareness workshops that OrphanCare conducted with the National Family Planning Board, knowledge often had a positive impact.
“Teens all learned how to protect themselves in situations where they felt pressured.
“This is an important tool as it makes them aware of the consequences of their actions and will be careful with their choices in the future.”
Lau said the danger of teenage pregnancies was that it often affected the health of the mother as well as the child.
Due to denial and fear of rejection by their families, pregnant teenage mothers tend to skip antenatal care and, in worst case scenarios, some do not even bother to record their pregnancies.
“Maternal death is around four times higher among teenagers than women in their twenties.
“The chances of stillbirths, pre-term births and baby deaths are also much higher in pregnant teens compared with women in their twenties,” Lau said.
She said society should stop blaming girls for teenage pregnancies and accept that their partners were equally responsible and were even more responsible if the girls were pressured into having sexual relations with them.
“The effects of teenage pregnancy can echo throughout a girl’s life, and prevent her from achieving her full potential and enjoying her basic human rights.
“Effects include social isolation, low academic achievement, nutritional depletion, low income-earning potential and lifelong poverty.”