KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 20 – Adolescent pregnancy remains a reality for many girls in the Southeast Asia region. This hampers their ability to pursue their dreams and aspirations fully. Societies and economies are also losing out. Removing barriers to girls’ personal, educational, and socioeconomic development enables them to realise their full potential.
The consequences of early pregnancies are vast, including health-related aspects, perpetuating cycles of inequality and impeding progress towards gender equality.
Conducted by the Burnet Institute for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a study was undertaken to understand this complex situation further.
The Understanding Pathways to Adolescent Pregnancy study is part of a larger regional effort alongside Cambodia, Indonesia, and Lao PDR to identify the patterns that drive adolescent pregnancy across the region, as determined by relationship or marital status and the extent of the girls’ bodily autonomy in decision-making.
“The launch of this report is a milestone as it provides necessary evidence and understanding of patterns that drive adolescent pregnancy.
“This qualitative research that UNFPA, UNICEF, and the Burnet Institute jointly conducted and released this year, will provide us with an opportunity to chart a path forward,” said Dr Aleksandar Sasha Bodiroza, UNFPA Asia-Pacific Regional Offices deputy regional director during the launch of the report last October 18.
The Malaysia study involved in-depth interviews with 45 adolescent girls from Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Pahang.
During ten follow-up interviews, the girls shared their life experiences and suggestions, contributing across a range of themes. A resonating feature was the felt need for more awareness about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and related topics.
“The girls highlighted issues that have been robustly demonstrated in other studies. The follow-up interviews showed that the girls indeed want access to information and want to exert their own bodily autonomy more fully,” said Dr Asa Torkelsson, UNFPA country representative Malaysia and country director Thailand.
The report finds that girls experiencing adolescent pregnancy want to return to school or continue their education but face challenges and require support to navigate life. They also need mental and psychosocial support to help cope.
Programmes and policies are needed to raise awareness and help youth navigate the stages of life safely, for their full potential to be realised. In this way, economies and societies will benefit too.
The lead principal local researcher for the Malaysia report, associate professor Dr Suraya Abdul Razak, Department of Primary Care Medicine UiTM, further delved into the report with a presentation during the launch.
This was followed by a discussion on The importance of strengthening CSE implementation and addressing the needs of vulnerable young people in Malaysia with the following panel members: Dr Muhammad Firdaus Ujang, Adolescent Health, Ministry of Health; Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri, Comprehensive Sexuality Education consultant, UNFPA Malaysia; and Dr Narimah Awin, technical advisor on Sexual and Reproductive Health, UNFPA Malaysia.
The discussion resonated with the voices of the girls consulted in the report, highlighting the need for strengthened implementation and rollout of comprehensive sexuality education in Malaysia.