Sun, 25 Nov 2001

Activists call for intensive campaign against unsafe sex

Maria Endah Hulupi The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The 18-year-old "Maya" thought the world had ended for her when her doctor confirmed that she was pregnant. She thought she was just having her first ever intimate relationship.

She was depressed and hopeless and didn't know what to do. She worried about how her boyfriend and her parents would react and what the neighbors would think. She imagined that she could not finish school, making it hard for her to pursue a career and have a good future.

All she could think of was aborting the pregnancy. Maya started to do things that are not recommended for pregnant women. But still her belly was getting bigger.

She had no idea how to do it by herself, but then she asked for help from a dukun (midwife). She was scared as she had to undergo a painful procedure. She was relieved finally but she realized that she could never forget that episode of her life.

Maya was one of many teenagers with little awareness of sex and reproductive health issues. The young generation, aged between 10 and 24 years, make up around 30 percent of the total Indonesian population.

Previous research has disclosed a tendency for delayed marriages but it has also revealed a trend toward early sexual activity, to as young as 15-years of age.

The Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI)'s figures show that there were around 5,900 cases of unsafe abortion attempts last year.

Some 70 percent of the women undergo abortion by consuming traditional herbal medications, vigorously massaging their stomach, inserting a blunt object in their genital organs to kill or pull out the fetus or seeking help from dukun.

The figure is only the tip of the iceberg. Biran Affandi's research in 2000 revealed an estimated 2.3 million abortion cases annually.

A doctor with the Family and Reproductive Health Clinic (KKRK) Ramona Sari said that the teenage girls did not realize that they were also putting themselves at lethal risk with their actions.

"Some of them went to dukun and suffered terrible pain. They refused to seek professional help until they had serious internal bleeding due to improper abortion procedures," she said during a recent seminar on reproductive health among teenagers.

Unwanted pregnancies are just one of the consequences resulting from the lack of awareness on the subject, which may also lead to (unsafe) abortion, early marriage, genital mutilation practices, infertility, death in childbirth and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (like AIDS, gonorrhea and syphilis, among others).

"Teenagers should be given proper sex and reproductive health education so they can adopt responsible sexual and social behavior and will understand the consequences of free and unsafe sex," said PKBI director Zarfiel Tafal.

The campaign to build this awareness, however, has yet to bear fruit.

PKBI and related government institutions still face a huge challenge because sex-related information is still considered taboo in the society and is not properly addressed by the family and school, two institutions that play a central role in teenagers' lives.

"Many parents prefer to avoid the subject and assume that they can leave the task to teachers. Without parental guidance, teenagers will try to understand it in an inappropriate way, like watching porn, which can be obtained easily and cheaply," Ramona said.

"Let's not forget that teenagers may imitate what they see or encounter," Ramona added.

While delegating the role to school teachers, another PKBI staff member, Inne Silviane, said PKBI and related governmental institutions were currently formulating a method for comprehensive sex education for teenagers.

However, before communicating with teenagers on sex and reproductive health issues, teachers must first undergo special training.

"Many teachers admit that they are not qualified to give proper sex education to their students. This is why previous efforts have not been effective," she said.

She expressed her hope that the program would begin as soon as possible.