Educate, do not ostracise unwed pregnant adolescents, says experts

Educate, do not ostracise unwed pregnant adolescents, says experts

ONE of the most common options to deal with adolescent out-of-wedlock pregnancy, is by sending the unwed mother to a shelter home.

The stigma that surrounds unwed mothers and children born out-of-wedlock is still evident in the country as many face unwanted glares and discrimination from society and are even shunned by their own family members.

For the parents, hearing such life-changing news involving their own daughters can be overwhelming. Parents would be livid after realising that their daughter had lost her innocence, but instead of resolving the issue, their mindset is more of how to handle the embarrassment caused by their daughter. The only way out of the “mess” is to send their unwed daughter away from the neighbourhood.

However, there are many factors why teenagers or adolescents navigate some very grown-up challenges, including unplanned pregnancy, with cases taking place at home without their parent’s knowledge.

At a forum on ‘Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy a Joint Responsibility’ at Menara Felda recently, a panellist cited a case of a 13-year old girl, who was eight months’ pregnant, was sent to Raudhatus Sakinah in Batu Caves about three months ago.

Raudhatus Sakinah, which was established in April 1998, is a youth shelter and rehabilitation centre.
Shockingly, the teenager’s mother, a fulltime housewife, was not aware of the physical changes in her daughter.

MESSAGE DELIVERY CHALLENGES

Given the rampant cases of adolescent out-of-wedlock pregnancies, comprehensive education on sexuality and reproductive health is crucial for young people, both female and male. This will teach them to be responsible so that they can prevent unintended pregnancies.

However, delivering the message and sharing the knowledge among the youth has its challenges as more often than not, it does not reach the troubled youngsters.

Commenting on the issue, Sub-Unit Head of Human Reproduction Division (PEKERTI), National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) Dr Wan Nur Baiti Sudin said, in providing the information, her team would take a cautious stance when sharing the knowledge and giving exposure to students during her talks in schools.

Among the challenges, choice of words and having some limitations in sharing the information are crucial, she said, noting that care should be exercised when uttering certain words to ensure whatever content that is delivered is safe and effective for the young mindset.

“What happened was the message did not really reach the students. Comprehensive and accurate education on reproductive health should be based on their age and level of maturity,” she told the forum.

Such programmes are regularly conducted in schools, drawing as many students from all age levels and with the hope that the facilitator will be able to reach out to all students.

“This modality is related to non-specific and general knowledge on reproductive health for all and may not touch on risky sexual behaviour and pregnancy as such information is specific for young adults,” she explained.

She said that sexuality health education is hampered by societal taboo that it is promoting pre-marital sexual activity.

Among other barriers, some teachers may not be comfortable to touch on reproductive health, hence making the programme less effective.

Dr Wan Nur Baiti said at LPPKN, its reproductive health education module has been developed by taking into consideration different learning styles for youth based on their age and the growth mindset of children.

“The activities in the module provide opportunities for the young to ask questions and give their response to every topic that is taught. Through our experience in conducting this programme in schools, students were proactive participants and some even shared their past experience and only after the programme, they realised the effects and consequences on premarital sex,” she said.

Through this programme, the youths were given the platform for them to seek the necessary assistance through facilitators at LPPKN.

“Besides that, participating teachers also found that they felt
calmer and more focused in managing youth issues after their exposure in the programme,” she said.

CHANGE STIGMA, REPRODUCTIVE EDUCATION

Parents and the community would usually give different perspective or have negative perceptions toward young unwed mothers-to-be.

Elaborating on the issue, Dr Wan Nur Baiti said social discrimination also negatively affected both the unwed mother and her family.

“This negative stigma causes the unwed mother’s family to feel ashamed to face the community with serious consequences on the girl. More often than not, her family will opt to either quit school or postpone her studies, send her to the rehabilitation centre or shelter home or chase their pregnant daughter away,” she said.

Dr Wan Nur Baiti said with no support from her parents, the youngster will be vulnerable to depression, hampering opportunities to further her studies.

“Parental and community support is vital to give unwed mothers a second chance to lead a better and productive life. Once society is aware of the situation, they will also understand the importance for young people to learn about reproductive health or sexuality education at an early age at home.

“Parents should also be aware that today’s younger generation are growing up faster than previous generations. This is because they are given access to technology with parental supervision in using the internet with exposure to inappropriate content that is associated with immoral behaviour,” she said.

However, she noted that Malaysia still upholds the traditional cultural values of respectfully interacting with people of all backgrounds, noting that it is important to maintain a gentle and indirect demeanour when disseminating information to the public.

“To teach reproductive health education to target groups, covering aspects on pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases for example, we need to seek and identify the vulnerable youths and those who are actively involved in risky sexual behaviours.
“As such, accurate information can be delivered to the right target groups and this will bring a long way in reducing the incidence involving social problems committed by youth such as premarital sex, unwed pregnancy and also sexually transmitted diseases,” she said, adding that open-mindedness has its limits based on situations.

Comprehensive education on reproductive health, she said should be made suitable for the younger generation’s age groups. Besides that, teachers should not be prejudiced in providing the information to youth and that they should not be judgemental especially towards those who are involved in risky behaviours.

“This is what is termed as stigma and this will only discourage youth from getting information from the right source,” she said.

ADEQUATE KNOWLEDGE NEEDED

An expanding online world for children provides benefits, but also risks. As parents, it is important to monitor children’s online activity and educate them on safe internet practices to protect them from exposure to inappropriate content.

In this regard, parents can also access information on sexuality, among others, so that they will be able to educate their children on related issues. What’s worrying is most parents are still ill-equipped with such information.

In this regard, Dr Wan Nur Baiti said parents play a critical role in child development as the child’s first and most critical years are spent in a family environment, and that parents are the single greatest influence on children.

“Most parents would not expect their child to ask them on matters related to reproductive health. Therefore, they need to prepare early on what they should explain when asked by their kids.

“However, proactive parents will educate their children on body anatomy and body safety from a young age, especially when the child can understand conversations,” she said.

She said that information as well as parental guidance on reproductive health education that is suitable for sharing with the child is accessible for free from reliable sources, either through physical or online programmes.

“LPPKN also provides a module for reproductive health education especially for parents and youth, ‘Modul Cakna Diri’ (I’m in Control) as well as highlights on reproductive health for reference to teachers and parents on LPPKN portal at www.modulace.lppkn.gov.my which is accessible to the public for free,” she said.

While giving exposure and information to their children, parents should also explain to them on the rules and family values and at the same time, they should also give them an opportunity to air their views and that parents must be prepared to adapt to different situations, when the need arise.

“In most cases, parents are not open and avoid from discussing on reproductive health. This causes their kids to follow their natural impulsivity and curiosity and learn from other sources. Initial interest and curiosity lead to inquiry and the situation becomes more complex when they want to try what they learned from the wrong source,” she said.
She said that with the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the younger generation now have an almost limitless amount of knowledge and opportunities for engagement. With unlimited-unrestricted and unmonitored internet access, children are exposed to inappropriate content. In order to ensure that children are safe,it is necessary to monitor and in some cases restrict access to certain sites, noting that all parties should work hand in hand in addressing social issues involving youth which are on the rise.

“The role of educating our youth does not solely rest on teachers, parents and the government. It is the duty of all the community including corporate bodies. Youths are the national assets as they are the nation’s future leaders. Mould young minds to bring out the best in them not only in education and knowledge but also in their personality and behaviour to ensure they are on the right track,” she said.

She also urged parents and the community to be more open-minded and take cognisance of the importance of reproductive health education for the younger generation to prevent them from being involved in social ills that could spell doom for their future.

She said that LPKKN has adopted a youth-friendly approach in its campaign, noting that they can visit the Pusat Remaja KafeTEEN in Putrajaya which was established as a pioneer in disseminating reproductive health and social education to youth in Malaysia.

NEED TO BE EFFECTIVE

Meanwhile, Head of the Sexuality and Reproductive I-Medik Education Unit Dr Anayasmin Azmi said the type of sexuality education for the young should be more effective to ensure the relevant information reaches the target groups.

“It should be delivered in a creative manner that is suitable for youth who are drawn to dopamine-reward activities; sexuality education is incorporated in challenging activities such as group extreme sports to develop their assertiveness, leadership and self-regulation skills that are inherent in reproductive education,” said the lecturer at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM).

Commenting on stigma faced by unwed mothers, she said of utmost importance is for parents to remove the negative stigma on sexuality education as prevention from young pregnancy.

“We now need to shift to ‘preventive more than curative’ and prepare our young by taking the first step. Parents as pillars of the family should realise that sexuality education is very important and relevant,” she added.

She also said that sexuality education should be taught at an early age as part of child growth and development and should be a continuous process, noting that it is not merely ‘touch and go.’

“In this regard, the approach should also be suitable and in line with Malaysian locality as well as other religious and cultural background that uphold the protective factors, and not otherwise. Besides that, education related to sexuality education should be treated with respect and in a responsible manner,” she said.

Dr Anayasmin who has managed various cases related to unwed pregnant adolescents said the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2022 showed that out of 2,512 respondents surveyed, 190 of them or 7.6 per cent admitted to having sex and 62 or 32.8 per cent had sex before they were 14 years old.

— BERNAMA

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