Fix teen pregnancy? Fix attitudes first

Fix teen pregnancy? Fix attitudes first

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has decided to halt the installation of condom vending machines in city-run schools. Following the ruling, all dispensers have been removed.

The BMA reasoned that a majority of parents and educators strongly believe the machines would encourage sex among students.

The BMA also took away condom vending machines in two city-operated parks, as people who exercised there believed the dispensers suggested the BMA promoted sexual activities among the public.

This means the BMA's initiative to prevent unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of HIV/Aids, especially among students, was not put into action long enough to discern its effectiveness.

Such a public health effort is not new. For several years, the Ministry of Public Health recommended condom vending machines be installed in schools to prevent teen pregnancy. It was, however, always met with opposition from both teachers and parents.

The issue regarding the prevention of unwanted pregnancy among teens is not new in Thailand, either. Studies have been done; statistics have been collected.

The National Children and Youth Development Committee under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, for example, has never stopped its efforts to curb teen pregnancy. A 10-year plan has been implemented by the committee to solve the problem. But the plan, according to the committee, desperately needs mutual collaboration if it is to achieve success.

The United Nations Population Fund released statistics in 2012 revealing 355 babies — a total of nearly 130,000 — were born each day in Thailand to mothers below the age of 20, one-third of whom were the result of unwanted pregnancies. Compared to figures in earlier years, there has been a constant increase in babies born to teen mums. In 2008, there were around 121,000 babies born to mothers below the age of 20. In 2010, there were 123,000.

If adults do nothing to stop this, the number will definitely continue to escalate.

We should allow teens to be part of the equation if we want to fix anything associated with them. We should ask them how they feel about the problem and what kind of help they need. It would have been a good idea to ask students what they thought of the condom vending machines, to ask them if they use protection during sex instead of asking them not to have sex. With or without the machines, teens have sex — we must accept that.

Adults need to change their perspectives toward sex and sex education, as well. This is crucial.

Viewing this issues as ones that should not be discussed results in teen pregnancy never being addressed.

Adults — teachers and parents. in the case of condom vending machines — must accept that the world has changed. Teen relationships in the 21st century can mean anything, from online romances, to moving into a teen boyfriend's house, to sex before marriage.

Instead of telling teens not to have sex, for example, we should provide them with protection.

Instead of telling them teen pregnancy is evil, we should explain that an unwanted pregnancy is preventable by means of condoms and other contraceptives — and suggest or provide places where they have access to those contraceptives.

In the United States, more than 400 public schools make condoms available to students through a nurse, guidance counsellor or other staff member. This is indeed a smart step toward increasing sexual health resources and preventing teen parents.

Of course, American culture is different from ours. But when it comes to teens across the world, everyone should want the same thing.

Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Arusa Pisuthipan

Deputy editor of the Life section

Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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