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Pregnant teens need help, not laws

Update: October, 14/2015 - 09:23

by Khanh Linh

The Ministry of Health has launched a new draft law that says teenagers must get permission from their parents to get an abortion. At present, pregnant teens often seek private treatment - or go to hospital - all on their own.

The law, which is attracting opinions from experts and the public, is aimed at reducing the high rate of abortion among unmarried teenagers in Viet Nam. The country now handles 300,000 teenage abortions a year.

This ranks it first in Southeast Asia and fifth in the world in abortions among unmarried teenagers. However, to me, the proposed new law is unfeasible. It would mean that teenagers whose parents were away from home or unavailable and other teens who had been abandoned would have little chance of getting an abortion at licensed hospitals and health clinics.

If the child had a representative or a guardian, the situation might be better. However, legal documents and papers are required to prove the blood-relationship between a teenager and guardian. Those with no relationship would be denied an abortion.

For teenagers living with their parents, no law could force them to speak to their parents about their circumstances if they didn't want to.

Doan Thi Lan Phuong, a senior midwife at the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said many under-age girls did not consult their parents when they became pregnant for fear of being scolded. Phuong said most wanted to seek parental advice, but fear and worry of revealing their mistake prevented them from doing so.

Dr Duong Vuong Mai, deputy head of HCM City's International Maternity Hospital's Medical Department, said that she witnessed many pregnant teenagers going to hospital alone and insisting on an abortion.

Each year, the hospital conducts about 3,000 abortions. The percentage of juvenile abortions accounts for between five to seven per cent. In the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the Ha Noi Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the number of juvenile abortions is roughly 1,500 and 900 respectively.

When the law comes into effect, these hospitals will no longer be among the first places pregnant girls visit. They will tend to seek private health facilities, many of which are unlicensed, to end their pregnancy quickly and secretly.

Health authorities have begun to check all beauty salons in the city after realising that many publicly advertise unlicensed health services. But if there is no solution to their problems, what can troubled teenagers do? It seems that they could be forced to risk their lives at unlicenced private health clinics instead of going to hospitals, as most do now.

Dr Mai said her maternity hospital had treated girls suffering from internal bleeding after having abortions at private clinics. She said pregnant girls needed to go to well-equipped hospitals with qualified doctors to reduce post-abortion complications.

In my opinion, the enforcement of the proposed law is not sensible or workable. The development of Vietnamese teenagers, both physically and emotionally, should not be modified by a law that they are unlikely to follow. It's time law makers stopped issuing knee-jerk regulations and made sure that any laws on the subject make sense to the teenagers themselves.

Sexual and reproductive education for young people, particularly on safe sex, is much more important than any kind of law. And it is worth remembering that, until recent years, Vietnamese youngsters were often getting married at a much earlier age, so these kinds of problems were far less frequent. — VNS

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