HCM CITY — A group of 25 adolescents, who gathered for a conference about teen sexuality and unplanned pregnancy in HCM City, demanded better quality sex education and reproductive health care services.
Representatives for Vietnamese teenagers, who attended a forum held by the Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population last Sunday, claimed that parents and society have strict views on teen sexuality, which has led to restricted access to sex education and services.
They called for the development of healthcare clinics friendly to teenagers and more interactive programmes on sexuality rights and reproductive health as well as communication and consulting programmes related to sexual relations and unplanned pregnancies among young people.
Also discussed were the number of underage marriages, which is one of the most prominent issues of juveniles in Viet Nam.
According to figures released at the conferences, 2 per cent of males 15-19 years old and 8.5 per cent of females of the same age are married. Underage marriage is still common in rural areas.
A report released last year from the General Statistics Department and UNICEF shows that the pregnancy rate of juveniles in Viet Nam is much higher than other Asian countries.
Of every 1,000 underage-Vietnamese girls, 49 adolescents become pregnant. In some areas, the number has reached 171.
Hoang Tu Anh, head of the Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP), said the number of pregnancies was expected to increase as the age of first sexual intercourse has become younger.
In addition, condom use among teenagers is low, according to a recent survey of the Ministry of Health.
Besides the huge number of unwanted pregnancies among juveniles, 20 per cent of the total number of abortions in the country were for teenage girls.
Most teenage girls who rarely have an opportunity to access proper health care and consultant services have abortions because of the financial burden and the community's stigma and discrimination against unwed mothers.
There are few reproductive healthcare services and sex education programmes for teens.
Most of the existing ones are contained within models or projects carried out by NGOs, Anh said, adding that the Government should implement a national sex-education course programme in public schools.
She pointed out that only 30 per cent of teens and young people interviewed said they could access services.
Suwannee Hanmusicwatkoon, a programme co-ordinator for the Southeast Asian Consortium on Gender, Sexuality and Health, said that Thailand had faced the same issue, choosing sex education and teen pregnancy as the most critical issues.
Unplanned pregnancies seriously affect the future and position of teenage girls, she added.
As in Viet Nam, only a small number of adolescents receive comprehensive sex education in Thailand, including direct contact with healthcare staff or consultants.
Recently the CCIHP co-operated with the Southeast Asian Consortium on Gender, Sexuality, and Health, and the Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women to launch a campaign on teen sexuality and education in Viet Nam.
It has also encouraged the Government to develop more programmes to provide opportunities for youth to have access to information about methods of contraception and prevention of unplanned pregnancies.
The CCIHP is under the Viet Nam Union of Science and Technology Associations. — VNS