Before the annual celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, Asa Torkelsson, the Fund’s Country Director in Thailand, interviewed with UN News to discuss the UN’s efforts in promoting access to sexual and reproductive health, particularly for youth.
What is the prevalence of adolescent pregnancy in Thailand?
Asa Torkelsson: The Thai government, with the support of national and international partners like UNFPA, has made significant progress in reducing teen pregnancy over the past decade. In 2011, the rate among women aged 15 to 19 was 53.4 births per 1,000, the highest it has been in Thailand since records began.
In 2016, a law was passed with the goal of reducing the birth rate by half within a decade. However, this target was achieved by 2021 and now the new objective is to have less than 15 births per 1,000 by 2027. While Thailand’s progress is impressive, there is still more effort required to reach this new goal.
How can we further reduce the prevalence of teenage pregnancies?
Adolescent pregnancy is influenced by various societal problems, such as shame surrounding birth control, unequal treatment of genders, lack of resources, sexual abuse, and pressure. In addition, there are often negative views towards females. Unfortunately, many attempts to decrease this issue ignore the significance of involving boys and men. We must prioritize promoting a healthy masculinity that values and respects the rights of women and girls.
We need a more comprehensive approach to promote girls’ rights and give them the power to prevent teenage pregnancy. This should involve teaching young people about sexuality in a way that suits their age, promoting gender equality by empowering girls and involving boys and men, and providing access to information and services related to sexual and reproductive health in a welcoming and supportive environment.
It is essential to involve youth, families, and communities in creating secure environments where young individuals can openly talk about their sexual and reproductive health and make informed decisions about family planning.
How does stigmatization and discrimination contribute?
Asa Torkelsson: When young girls get pregnant, they can often experience discrimination wherever they are in the world, and this is certainly true in Thailand. Thailand can be considered a traditional society in many respects and so pregnant teens may be regarded with great disapproval, in other words stigmatized.
UNFPA has encountered numerous adolescent females who claim they did not receive adequate education about sexuality during their time in school, despite it being included in the curriculum. Some have also shared that they were made to feel uneasy or embarrassed when seeking contraception, as healthcare providers would show disdain and spread rumors about them.
In extreme situations, the bias and labeling can compel teenage mothers to leave school and be abandoned by their own relatives.
What are the lasting effects of adolescent pregnancy?
Asa Torkelsson: Most teen pregnancies are unplanned and unintended and so often lead to many challenges.
Numerous teenagers are not physically prepared for pregnancy or giving birth, making them more susceptible to complications. In Thailand, early pregnancy is the primary cause of mortality among adolescent girls.
Furthermore, in Thailand, a large portion of the population comes from low-income families and may experience nutritional deficiencies, which can further elevate the risks during pregnancy and childbirth.
Pregnancy during adolescence greatly impacts a girl’s ability to complete her education and earn an income, leading to many girls dropping out of school.
What is the level of progressiveness in Thailand regarding sexual and reproductive health concerns?
Asa Torkelsson: The government of Thailand has made significant efforts to guarantee the right to sexual and reproductive health for all individuals residing in the country, including youth.
In 2002, a universal health coverage system was implemented to provide healthcare for all individuals, including family planning services and a variety of birth control methods like the pill and long-acting implants. As of 2021, every young Thai citizen is eligible to receive 10 free condoms per week.
In 2016, the Act for the Prevention and Solution of the Adolescent Pregnancy Problem included additional legislation targeted at addressing teen pregnancy. This law guarantees fundamental rights for teenagers, such as the right to education. It specifically protects the rights of pregnant adolescent girls and makes it illegal to deny them these rights.
Has the law contributed to a decrease in teenage pregnancies?
Reworded: Effective laws go beyond just being passed. There is a significant amount of effort needed to ensure that the healthcare industry in Thailand is adequately educated on the new regulations and how to handle teenage pregnancy.
Society’s perspectives must shift and greater resources should be allocated towards education, particularly at the secondary level, to involve boys and properly educate girls on their rights.
The government is making efforts to ensure that young individuals have the ability to obtain and benefit from sexual and reproductive health rights. In a society that is quickly aging, young people are seen as crucial for future success.
UNFPA is working to establish various alliances to assist governmental initiatives and protect the rights of young individuals, particularly those residing in rural regions, ethnic groups, and those below the poverty threshold.
We collaborate with private businesses, famous individuals, internet personalities, disability advocates, and groups of at-risk youth.
By the year 2030, ensure that all women and girls are empowered. (SDG 5)
Stop all types of discrimination and violence targeting women and girls
Put an end to harmful practices like underage and coerced marriages, as well as female genital mutilation.
Revise and fortify laws to advance gender equality and support the empowerment of women and girls.
Guarantee equal opportunities for women to fully and actively take part in leadership roles in political, economic, and public spheres.
Guarantee access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for all individuals
Currently, nearly half of married women worldwide do not have control over their own sexual and reproductive health and rights.