THAILAND – Increasing teenage pregnancy is a wake-up call for Thai society to adopt new approaches to gender equality and comprehensive sexuality education for both boys and girls, experts say.
They believe this is the most effective way to prevent the problem becoming an economic burden as the workforce shrinks with an ageing population.
A new report “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy”, from the UN Population Fund Thailand (UNFPA), shows an increasing number of adolescent mothers in Thailand. As a result, the girls become excluded from the workforce and the education system.
“The ratio of Thai adolescents giving birth is 54:1,000 girls in 2012, compared to 31:1,000 in 2000. This is an alarming increase in adolescent pregnancies even among other Asean countries,” said UNFPA assistant representative Wassana Im-em.
She added: “The average teenage pregnancy ratio for the Asia Pacific region from the same year was 35:1,000.”
According to the 81-page report, which was released yesterday and co-authored by the National Economic and Social Development Board, every day in Thailand 355 women aged under 20 years old become mothers. About 10 of these girls are under 15.
Casper Peek, UNFPA representative to Thailand, said the rise of adolescent pregnancy in many developing countries was largely caused by poverty.
But in Thailand’s case, it stems from a clash between traditional Thai cultural norms and rapidly changing teenage lifestyles, including individuals’ sexual behaviour.
To reverse this trend, boys have to be taught to respect girls and girls to respect themselves, learn self-esteem and refused to be taken advantage of, Mr Peek said.
This can be done by providing better sexual education, access to reproductive health services, and empowering girls economically and socially.
“The problem is no longer solely the girl’s responsibility, but the boy’s, their parents’, the community’s and society’s at large”, he said.
“After all, under-aged pregnancy is also illegal,” he added.