Besides known for the incredible islands and natural beauty for tourism, Southeast Asia is one of the regions in the world that’s quite controversial in regards to family planning. With undeniably high numbers for rape and child marriage, it’s no surprise that Southeast Asia is also facing an alarmingly high teen birth rates.
The average adolescent birth rate in the region is 47 births per 1000 females aged 15 to 19, higher than the average of 35 in South Asia and close to the global average of 50. According to UNICEF, the highest adolescent birth rates at the country level are seen in Laos (94), Cambodia (57), Thailand (50), Indonesia (48) and Philippines (47). Quite striking numbers coming from one region, isn’t it?
“When an adolescent girl becomes pregnant, her life changes forever. Her schooling often gets disrupted, or ends altogether; her prospects of a job dim; the health hazards due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth are huge – and often fatal,” explained Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director, East Asia and the Pacific.
What young girls should be aware of is that being pregnant at a young age can be a lot to handle, not to mention come with a heavy set of consequences as well. Complications from pregnancy and birth is the number one killer of teenage girls worldwide. On the other hand, teenage pregnancy would lead to the young girl denying her rights to education, end of childhood and becomes more vulnerable to violence and poverty.
With that information at hand, teenage girls absolutely must have access to family planning services in order to stop teenage pregnancy from rising. This means young girls must be introduced to contraception, information about sex and her right to make choices about her body and her future. Of course, none of this can happen unless it’s supported by a good foreign policy that is adequately funded.
Adolescent sexuality is a reality that makes many governments and other stakeholders uncomfortable. But unless we understand the complexities, we will fail to make genuine progress in filling gaps in our knowledge, especially for 10 to 14-year-olds and unmarried girls and boys, and in addressing these challenges. Just take a look at what these two young mothers are saying.
“I knew a little bit about how a baby is made, but not too much. In school, I had no lessons at all related to getting pregnant. Nothing!”
Natalia, a 19-year-old mother from Timor Leste
“I had plans for my life, but since I got pregnant I had to plan in a different way. If I knew this was going to happen, I would not have bothered with that guy and just focused on my studies.”
Fern, an 18-year-old pregnant school girl
From those two girls alone we can conclude that comprehensive sexuality education is needed to ensure that young people are equipped with an understanding in this matter. Evidence globally clearly shows that providing sexual education does not increase sexual activity, but rather empowers young persons to take charge of their own lives with healthier and happier outcomes. Abstinence-only approaches are not effective in delaying sexual initiation, reducing the frequency of sex or reducing the number of sexual partners. Dina Chaerani, President, Youth Coalition for Girls in Indonesia, commented on this matter by saying, “At the end of the day, young people themselves must be at the heart of the solution.”