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Hariati Azizan, The Malaysia Star, July 11, 2010--As much as we want to deny it, many young people in Malaysia are having sex, says Shelter Home executive director James Nayagam.
Nayagam, who has been assisting pregnant teenagers for 30 years, points out that the culture has changed and parents, educationists, authorities and policy-makers also have to change their mindset to keep up and deal with the new social trends.
ï¿½Young people now are more open, they are not shy about sex any more ï¿½ many have multiple partners and they think it is okay ï¿½ so we have to accept that fact first before we can find ways to deal with the growing phenomenon and its ensuing problems,ï¿½ he says.
He tells of a report he received some time ago.
ï¿½Some Form One students (13-year-olds) at a secondary school in PJ had a competition to find out who has had the most sexual partners. You know how many partners the winner apparently had? Thirty! And sheï¿½s only 13.ï¿½
He stresses that many are still ignorant of the facts or have various misconceptions passed on by their friends.
ï¿½Others are misled by what they read or watch in the media and on the Internet.ï¿½
Atikah is one. When asked about contraception, she replies: ï¿½It is the boyï¿½s responsibility.ï¿½
Recently, the nation was gripped by various reports of teens who indulge in premarital sex as well as issues of teen pregnancies and child marriages.
A study done by Universiti Putra Malaysia revealed that more than 300 Malay teens aged between 13 and 25 admitted to having had sex, with 85% stating that they did not regret their actions and found sex very enjoyable.
This was followed by a news report of a nine-year-old girl in Penang who allegedly gave birth in a hospital after sleeping with her 14-year-old neighbour.
Welfare Department statistics reveal that by April this year, a total of 111 young girls have sought help for their pregnancies. Last year, there were 131 cases received while in 2008, there were 107 teenage girls who got pregnant.
Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM) co-chair Rashidah Abdullah points out that the trend of pre-marital sex among young people has been growing for more than two decades.
Quoting the country report of Malaysia from the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) 15 Monitoring and Advocacy on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, she highlights a media survey by the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN), which showed that between 1994 and 1996, about 24% of 13- to 19-year-olds had engaged in sexual intercourse and 18.4% had their first intercourse between the ages of 15 and 18 years.
A study by the Malaysian Aids Council in 1999/2000 revealed that the youngest to have had sexual intercourse was nine years old. In its 2004 Malaysian Population and Family Survey (MPFS), LPPKN found that about 2.2% of the population have had sexual intercourse out of wedlock.
The board also drew attention to reports from government clinics and hospitals, which showed that cases of unwanted pregnancies and consensual sex among teens have increased: about 19% of cases of unmarried mothers involve teens below 18.
Despite the data, says Rashidah, many in the country still refuse to admit to the problem, hampering efforts to address it.
ï¿½Many have difficulty accepting the social reality that may be disturbing to oneï¿½s religious views or political sensitivities. And this holds true especially for top politicians, more than for parents or the youths themselves,ï¿½ she says, adding that at the same time, there is a lack of up-to-date and comprehensive statistics on the phenomenon.
Focus on the Family curriculum and Melaka branch manager Joshua Liong concurs.
ï¿½We have not done any formal survey on the rise of teenage pregnancies but we have noticed that itï¿½s a global trend. We have found through our No Apologies programme (pro-abstinence programme for teens) and from speaking to school counsellors, teenage pregnancies in schools seem to be a common occurrence, no longer shocking news for many schools.ï¿½
Waitress Nicole, who got knocked up by her 25-year-old boyfriend when she was 16, agrees. She shares that none of her neighbours or schoolfriends was surprised when she got married.
ï¿½It was so common in my neighbourhood (in Desa Petaling, Kuala Lumpur) for people my age to have sex, get pregnant and marry early. I have a friend who got pregnant when she was 14 and left school to have her baby. And it is not just common among one race, the trend cuts across the different races in the community,ï¿½ she says, adding that, ironically, it was her 81-year-old grandmother who was the angriest with her for ï¿½throwing her life away and marrying earlyï¿½.
According to Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abd Jalil, a 2004 survey conducted on 1,700 young adults aged between 13 and 24 revealed that more than 50% of the respondents did not know in detail about the functions of reproductive organs.
ï¿½Teenagers lack information and access to birth control methods. Many teenagers are also not taught about ways to deal with peer pressure and how to say ï¿½noï¿½ to sex before they are ready,ï¿½ she said at a recent press conference.
Rashidah agrees, highlighting that the 2004 MPFS showed that a little less than half of young people aged 13-24 had heard of at least one contraceptive method.
ï¿½Surprisingly, although condoms are available at pharmacies, only one in four knew about the method,ï¿½ she notes.
Stressing the importance of equipping our young with knowledge on reproductive health, Shahrizat had said her ministry would propose to the Government to include the sex education module they helped develop with the Education Ministry and other relevant agencies ï¿½ aptly named Social and Reproductive Health (SRH) ï¿½ as part of the co-curriculum programmes in primary and secondary schools.
Introduced in 2006 as part of subjects like science, language and moral education, the implementation of SRH has been hampered by various teething problems, including lack of teachers.
Nayagam, however, feels that the introduction of the module as a separate subject is more urgent than ever.
ï¿½I was involved in the development of the module too and I strongly believe it has everything we need. A comprehensive, independent subject (on social and reproductive health) will be a better source of information than their friends anyway,ï¿½ he says.
Rashidah agrees, cautioning that implementing an SRH module will need a lot of consideration.
ï¿½We need to think of how we can balance young peopleï¿½s needs and the societyï¿½s sensitivities. We need to look at it as a health issue and highlight the rights and choices they have rather than prescribing moral solutions. Most of all, we need to show the young people compassion.ï¿½
Liong believes that the SRH needs to address the lack of understanding and skills in the area of building healthy relationships, something that he feels is the root cause of promiscuity and unwanted pregnancies among the young.
ï¿½The lack of self-worth and self-esteem pushes a person to find love and intimacy in anyone who shows a slight interest.
ï¿½Of course, the family plays the utmost important role in helping a teen find worth and a sense of belonging and hence the ability to build healthy relationships outside of the family.ï¿½
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