Around 16 million adolescent pregnancies occur globally per year. More worryingly for Malaysia, 28.8% of 13,831 teenagers between the ages of 10 and 19 years have conceived children out of wedlock according to this year’s data by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

While 95% of teenage pregnancies occur in low and middle income countries, the statistics are still high in developed countries such as the United States and Australia, with adolescent birth rates of 29.4% and 16.0% respectively.

In 2015, a global review by UNESCO found that in-depth sexuality education led to better sexual and reproductive health, consequently reducing the number of sexually transmitted infections, HIV and unintended pregnancies. Comprehensive sexual education was also found to promote gender equality, encourage safer sexual behaviours, delaying first sexual experience and increase use of barrier contraceptives.

Sex education in light of rising teen pregnancy rates

Sex education in Malaysia will be introduced in secondary schools starting October this year as announced by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. The implementation of the module is on account of the public’s mounting concerns regarding the shocking statistics on teenage pregnancies in the local scene.

This is not a recent issue in the country, however, with Teen Pregnancy Statistics Manual by the MOH reporting 18,652 and 18,847 teenage pregnancies in years 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Fingers are being pointed at the lack of edification and awareness amongst adolescents in sexual and reproductive health as the cause for such high numbers of teen pregnancies.

60.5% of Malaysians do not know how a baby is born

A recent survey involving 1,071 respondents from various racial backgrounds aged 18 to 29 revealed that a large number of females lack sufficient knowledge of their bodily functions, which further escalates this question; how much do teenagers in secondary school – who are younger than these respondents – know about sex and reproduction?

One of the survey participants unveiled that some of her peers were clueless that they could become pregnant by engaging in sexual intercourse.

“Only 39.5% of respondents have knowledge of how a baby is born and 45.5% know what is a womb,” said Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Chew Mei Fun, who was at the unveiling of the report from the survey.

The same survey found that over a one-third of Malaysians have been exposed to pornography on the Internet by the time they are aged 13 to 14 years – with 4.8% of them having already been engaged in sexual intercourse.

“This is why adding sexual education in the school syllabus is vital, especially in this day and age where children are constantly exposed to sexual material on social media” said activist Thanam Visvanathan Suresh.

According to obstetrics and gynaecology specialist from Sultanah Aminah Hospital, Dr Eliza Mohd Noror, a majority of teenagers are unaware of the health implications once they start becoming sexually active, especially if they have more than one partner.

The current syllabus in schools only grazes the surface, she adds, and focuses on the science of reproduction, but not on the physical intercourse and its impact.

“What many fail to see is that sexual activities among teenagers cause not only social problems but also have psychological effects,” said psychologist Engelina Daniel who stressed that many teens have sought for counselling due to stress from relationships.

PT3 Science exam question on condoms raises eyebrows

A question posed in the Science examination paper of the recent Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) trials has escalated the ongoing natter regarding the importance of sex education in secondary schools.

“The open sales of condom will bring negative impact to the extent of causing social problems. Do you agree? Please explain,” reads the question from the PT3 trial paper, to which the student answered, “No. Condoms are a step for birth control which is needed to prevent pregnancy” was marked as incorrect.

It was neither the question nor the answer that caused a stir amongst the public – but the fact that the examiner had deemed the answer as incorrect.

“Let’s investigate and see what the problem is,” responded Deputy Education Minister Chong Sin Woon. “Something is wrong somewhere as condoms are used to prevent pregnancies.”

“We always say that we have to teach education or family life education in school and for children to remain safe and have a healthy lifestyle,” said Datuk Dr Raj Karim, former director-general of the National Population and Family Development Board.

Stressing that it was unacceptable for the answer to be marked as wrong, she added, “It doesn’t mean when you teach them about family planning, you’re asking them to practise it there and then.”

It takes two hands to clap: Should girls receive sex education?

The proposed sex education module in Malaysia will cover topics on premarital sex, “sex variations”, adolescent pregnancies, sexual abuse and sexually transmitted illnesses will commence next month – for male teenagers.

The Male Teenagers’ Reproductive and Sexual Education Module developed by the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) is reported to start in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Penang and Sabah for teenage boys aged 16 and above.

The National Parent- Teacher Associations Collaborative Council have urged for a comprehensive and integrated curriculum that will not be gender-bias. “To form a wholesome plan comprising various dimensions, everyone must collaborate in developing an integrated and comprehensive module that is not gender-bias and is general in focus,” said the council’s president, Associate Professor Dr Mohamad Ali Hassan.

“Women should also have the right to protect themselves,” he added.

However, Datuk Dr Siti Norlasiah Ismail, director-general of LPPKN posited that different modules for teenage boys and girls are necessary.

“We will carry out more interactive activities to instil awareness while emphasising on the importance of respect and responsibility,” she said.

As such, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) newly released video that outlines the importance of comprehensive sex education in guiding the youth to make conscious, healthy and sensible choices about relationships and sexuality, comes at the perfect moment for Malaysia.

The video aims to give scientifically accurate, realistic and non-judgemental information, according to the United Nations cultural agency, and is considered as an age-appropriate and culturally relevant approach to education on sexuality and relationships. MIMS

Read more:
Issues in sex education and digital culture are damaging young adults
Sexually Transmitted Diseases: The trend in Malaysia
World Contraception Day 2016: The importance of educating women to make informed decisions