Thu, 27 May 2004

RI youth learn the hard facts of adulthood

The Indonesian Coalition for Health and Johns Hopkins University's Center for Communications Programs invited 200 advocates, policymakers, donors and young activisits to a gathering in Kuta, Bali, from May 14 to May 16, to devise programs and policies to help young people deal with their problems and achieve their dreams. The Jakarta Post's Rita A. Widiadana discusses the results of the gathering in the following articles.

"Kadek Tina", a high school student in Singaraja, Buleleng regency, North Bali, was shocked when she found out that she was pregnant.

"I did not understand how this happened. I only had sex with my boyfriend once. My friends told me I wouldn't get pregnant if I just did it once," she said.

Her teachers discovered that she was pregnant in the middle of last week's national final examination (UAN).

The school reacted harshly to the news. Teachers and school employees treated the girl as if she was contagious. And the local education agency made it clear she was no longer wanted.

"She must be expelled from school and banned from taking part in the UAN. Her behavior could have a negative impact on her peers and, most of all, tarnish the image of the local school system," a high-rank official at the Buleleng education agency, who refused to be named, said.

And last Monday, two junior high school students in Badung regency were kicked out of their exams after their teachers found out that they were pregnant.

Dr. Okanegara from the Kisara youth group in Bali said youngsters rarely received support from parents, teachers or other adults in positions of authority when going through such difficult times.

The majority of Indonesian parents, teachers, government officials and religious leaders are quick to judge and condemn teenagers when dealing with pregnancy problems.

"Rather than finding solutions, adults put more pressure on these troubled teens," he said.

For Tina, it never occurred to her that she would be forced to quit school. "I feel like the earth has stopped moving."

Tina is not alone in her ordeal. Hundreds of young girls with little or no knowledge of sexual reproductive health end up with unwanted pregnancies.

In the small town of Klaten, Central Java, five students were banned from taking their final exams after it was learned that they were pregnant.

From Banda Aceh and Medan in North Sumatra to Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya and Jayapura in Papua, dozens of female students have had to quit school because of unwanted pregnancies.

"These young girls often lack the knowledge of their own reproductive health because nobody told them.

"When they are pregnant, they are suddenly faced with the most difficult choice of their lives: whether to continue going to school or to become a mother," Okanegara said.

Leaving school to raise their babies often prompts the girls to shun the world of knowledge and friendship for good.

"They are still unprepared physically and emotionally to become parents," Okanegara said.

Abortion is not an attractive option as the girls are afraid of the pain and the consequences of such a step, he said.

"But abortion seems to be a better option than having to bear the burden of being excluded from society and being too young and unprepared for motherhood," he said.

Unwanted pregnancies and premarital sex are just two of the problems faced by teens. Other pressing issues are the rising number of student brawls, street violence, juvenile crimes, alcohol and drug-related problems and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS among young people.

A recent study on teen behavior conducted by the University of Indonesia's Demographic Institution, which covered the youth between 15 to 24, indicated that 4.9 percent out of 2341 male respondents had had sexual encounters and 6 percent of them had agreed to engage in premarital sex.

The study, conducted from 2002 to 2003 in several cities in Indonesia, showed that 0.7 percent out of 1815 female respondents had sexual experiences, while 2.5 percent of them had involved in premarital sex.

While some experts doubt the validity of the results, they generally agree that teen sex is a pressing problem.

According to Barbara Kemp Huberman, director of outreach programs for the Washington-based organization Advocates for Youth, dealing with teen problems requires a change in the mind- set of adults.

"The majority of adults are only focusing on black-and-white issues, not the complexities of today's teens," said Hubberman, who gave a three-day workshop and skill-building course at the Kuta conference.

She said parents blamed globalization, the media and the Internet as the cause of teen problems, while the truth is that parents just feel insecure with the rapid changes taking place around the world.

"While we (adults) tend to resist change, youth, on the other hand, are more responsive. But we often see those youth as deviants and having social disorder problems.

"Youth of every generation have their own way of expression ... globalization has accelerated everything, so the gap is more prominent," she said.

Whereas other nations view youth as a potential resource, Indonesia, with its 44 million teenagers, or 20 percent of the country's 220 million population, seems to perceive the young more as a potential problem.

In truth, Indonesian teenagers are no less versatile than teenagers everywhere. There are a lot of young people who excel at school, who are talented and committed to sports, music and other activities, as demonstrated by the young participants at the three-day gathering.

Hundreds of youngsters were able to share their experiences with their counterparts from across the country.

Adi from the Cemara youth organization in Padang, West Sumatra, said the meeting would help young people with a better understanding of various issues, including sexual reproductive health and drug-related problems.

"Also, I can set up a network with other youth organizations across the country," he said.

Since the meeting was also attended by advocates and government officials, many of the young participants took the opportunity to speak their minds.

"We are tired of being an object of rage for most adults. We are always being blamed for everything. They never understand, they never listen or talk to us. We have to show those (adults) and the world that we are not as bad as they think we are," said a participant from East Java.