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Bangkok Post article by Mr. Caspar Peek: Who is more risky to unprepared pregnancy, bad girl or good girl?

12 June 2014

บทความของคุณคาสปาร์ พีค ในหนังสือพิมพ์ Bangkok Post ฉบับวันที่ 12 มิถุนายน 2557 เรื่องความเข้าใจผิดๆว่าเด็ก"ซ่า"จะมีความเสี่ยงในการตั้งครรภ์โดยไม่ตั้งใจกว่าเด็กเรียบร้อย โดยบทความนี้อ้างถึงตัวเลขการตั้งครรภ์ในวัยรุ่นที่จังหวัดพิจิตรและความเห็นจากเจ้าหน้าที่อนามัยว่าเด็กที่ตั้งครรภ์ไม่พร้อมส่วนใหญ่กลับเป็นเด็กเรียบร้อยที่เรียนหนังสือเก่ง เรื่องนี้น่าประหลาดใจและทำให้เกิดคำถามว่าอะไรเป็นสาเหตุที่ทำให้วัยรุ่นต้องตกอยู่ในสถานการณ์เช่นนั้น เป็นเพราะการไม่ให้การศึกษาเรื่องเพศกับเด็กอย่างเพียงพอหรือไม่ หรือสายตาที่จับจ้องของสังคมเมื่อวัยรุ่นไปขอบริการอนามัยเพื่อให้พวกเขามีเพศสัมพันธ์อย่างมีความรับผิดชอบ

Ignorance is fuelling teenage pregnancy
Published: 12/06/2014 at 06:04 AM 
Newspaper section: News

When mentioning "pregnant adolescent" many people tend to think of a "bad girl", a girl of loose morals, dressed provocatively perhaps, drinking beer and frequenting the types of people no decent person would want to hang out with. After all, these girls display the typical behaviour we associate with the causes of teen pregnancy: drinking alcohol, having sex before marriage, having many or even multiple boyfriends twice her age, and not being interested in school. In a word, thoroughly shameless girls, and when they get pregnant it should come as no surprise.

 
A student campaigner showing a sticker promoting abstinence, warning teen girls not to give in to pressure from their boyfriends to have sex as ‘proof of love'. Seksan Rojjanametakul

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the "good girls" - well-behaved girls who do well in school, don't drink, respect their elders, and at most hold hands with an equally squeaky-clean boy her age when they go to the mall to sip bubble tea on a Saturday afternoon.

Interestingly, the statistics show that, proportionally, more "good girls" get pregnant than "bad girls". Take note of the words of Dr Boonchai Theerakan of Phichit province, quoted by a Thai newspaper last Wednesday: "In Phichit, more than 30 mothers out of 100 are adolescents. The youngest is 12 years old." He also said this stems from "the fact that teenagers have sex without understanding and protection. But it is difficult to prevent them from having sex. What we can do is to teach them to use condoms, or contraceptive pills or the injection. Adolescents can ask for free services at district hospitals".

Ms Suthaya Pha-oblek, a health promotion officer in Phichit, added to this that 68% of girls lost their virginity when they were in Mathayom 2 (or Grade 8), and that they lost their virginity at their friends' houses, or at their own when their parents were not in. She added that according to a survey from two years ago, "bad girls" with less impressive education scores turn out to know better how to protect themselves.

Wait a second. So "good girls" run a higher risk of getting pregnant than "bad girls"? How is that possible?

Before trying to answer that question, let's look at some more statistics, this time from the US. During the Bush administration, the US government pushed and funded many "abstinence-only" programmes. The idea was that, by not teaching adolescents about condoms to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases or HIV, and by preaching the virtues of abstinence until young people were married, the problem of teen pregnancy would be solved.

There were (and still are) virginity pledging societies wholly dedicated to this. According to a study by John Hopkins University, more than half of both pledgers and non-pledgers had engaged in sexual activity, and the two groups had similar rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Pledgers, however, were less likely to use contraceptives, or to use them consistently. For example, 34% of non-pledgers who had had sex said they had always used condoms during the past year, compared with 24% of pledgers.

These findings underscore the need for young people to receive information about condoms and other forms of contraception.

The Guttmacher Institute found that "86% of the decline in US teen pregnancy between 1995 and 2002 was due to teens' increasing, and increasingly effective, use of contraceptives; only 14% was the result of teens' delaying sex". The reason was that those young people who had committed to not having sex before marriage, were not capable of getting a condom - it was something unthinkable, given their promise. In other words ignorance is, as it always has been, a bad strategy for keeping young people safe.

Now fast-forward back to Thailand: girls who lead a "loose" lifestyle run a lower risk of becoming pregnant or contracting a sexually-transmitted infection than "good" girls.

The truth is that, on average, Thai adolescents are 13-15 years old at the time of first sexual intercourse, according to a survey by the Public Health Ministry in 2011. This is a fact. And it is unlikely that this age of adolescents' first sexual experience will increase, and is equally unlikely that unmarried people will stop having sex.

The difference is that those young people who do not hide the fact that they are sexually active, feel less ashamed about protecting themselves than those who do hide it. So the ones who get pregnant are typically in school, and are forced to leave school when they become pregnant, even though the law in Thailand says they should stay in school.

But they are ashamed. Parents are also ashamed. And teachers are ashamed. Everyone is ashamed. Meanwhile, the girl pays the price - a whole future ruined.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently asked Phunchanit Bunthou, a young communications student, to visualise how difficult it is for young people to buy condoms. The YouTube clip, entitled "Not That Easy" is quite funny, even though the truth is quite sad.

Young people are being judged by society when they try to be responsible about sexuality - when they care about their own and their partner's health by trying to buy a condom. Maybe it's the nurse who refused to help because the girl was 16. Maybe it's the woman in the convenience store who gave the boy ugly looks when he was trying to decide which condoms to buy.

This is how we end up with 30 out of every 100 mothers in Phichit province being adolescents - 773 girls in Phichit alone last year, and more than 129,000 in all of Thailand. In one generation, that's 2.5 million Thai children born to teenage mothers.

Scary. Shameful. And it's nothing that easy access to condoms and contraceptives could not have prevented. So who should be ashamed now?

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Caspar Peek is UNFPA Representative for Thailand.

About the author
Writer: Caspar Peek