Sun, 02 Oct 1994

Teens remain sexually active, while parents remain negative


The prolonged, heated and often painful debate on abortion at the international conference on population in Cairo last month is still fresh in our minds. There was no common agreement on the issue, leaving individual countries to follow what they feel is suitable in their own situation. In Indonesia, regardless of the moral and religious consequences, abortions are readily available although Clause 15 of the 1992 Health Law rules that "termination of pregnancy is prohibited for whatever reasons" while "certain medical actions" are possible when the life of the mother and unborn baby are in danger.

Unwanted pregnancies often lead to abortions and, minus government directives on the 1992 Health Law, married women and teenagers are often victimized by their own decision to get rid of the unwanted fetuses.

The Jakarta Post reporters Ati Nurbaiti, Lenah Susianty, Santi W.E. Soekanto and T. Sima Gunawan prepared six articles on the subject, including the need to protect sexually-active teenagers from their ignorance, or even indifference towards the consequences of their acts. Two of the stories appear on page 7 and the other four on page 2. ____________________________________________________________________

JAKARTA (JP): It was an invitation to fun and adventure, as 14 year-old "Tari" followed her junior high school friends outside the school gate. "All you do is colek-colek (touching, teasing) and you get money," said one of her mentors.

They walked towards a car with an elderly man sitting in it, similar to the others who came to pick up their children. Only he didn't have a child to pick up at that South Jakarta school, just these young girls who had swiftly changed their clothes.

Sure enough it was fun. A free lunch at a restaurant and shopping for those many pretty things a girl yearns for to keep fashionable.

Tari went steady with her "sugar daddy" for two years. It didn't matter that sex was involved, even a baby on the way, he would divorce his wife and marry her.

It didn't happen.

The man escorted Tari to a doctor for an abortion, after which an IUD (intra-uterine device) was inserted, and the relationship continued.

Although Tari's story is shocking, the fact that such a young girl was having sex is very common. Other cases of teenage pregnancy are not limited to adventure-seeking kids or those falling prey to irresponsible adults. Setting up stereotypes of the rich and lonely, the poor and those without religious background, does not help.

"We have had youngsters who are number one in their class in reading the Koran," said counselor Joyce SH Djaelani.

A 1992 survey across 14 cities by the defunct Tempo magazine revealed that 38 percent of the 940 respondents had lost their virginity between the ages of 17 and 20, and 18 percent where under 17.

More awareness

Is there an increasing number of teenagers involved in sex and ending up in unwanted pregnancies? Kartono Mohammad, chairman of the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI), does not think so.

"There might be more sexually active youngsters because we have a larger group of teenagers, but the proportion would not likely be lower or higher," he said.

There are more visits to clinics, said Kartono, partly because of more awareness of the fact that traditional abortions are unsafe, or because there are greater financial resources in the family.

And, interestingly, there is more democracy in the family.

"Now they ask the teenagers what they want, instead of immediately turning to abortion or marrying them off."

In any case, where there is a place to turn to, be it health columns in the media, private practitioners, hot line services and clinics, counseling sexually active teens is daily fare.

"Four out of 10 phone calls a day come from those who say they are teens and claim to have experienced sexual intercourse," says a counselor at a counseling center who requested anonymity.

One may debate about the rapid decay of society, supposedly brought about by more exposure to X-rated films and other media involving sexual scenes, besides the availability of contraceptives for those who can muster the courage to buy them.

Although continual exposure to sex in the media has been blamed by most people, a counselor pointed out that parents are partly responsible for the sexual behavior of their children.

"Did parents from the 1960s hippy generation abstain from pre- marital sex?" asked Joyce Djaelani, who once worked at the now dissolved Sahabat Remaja counseling service.

Swift action is needed for a number of reasons: the higher vulnerability of teenagers to the fatal Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) - as telling signs show up only four to ten years after contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV); the abortions which counselors find prevalent in teenage pregnancy cases; and the obvious need to inform teenagers how to deal with their sexuality and take care of themselves.

Counselors, lawyers and doctors agree that society may be decaying like many people suggest, but stress that there is little time to agonize.


While youth groups' and school counselors' efforts, from sports and religion based events to popular radio talk shows, are heartening, much more must be done.

Schools, however, are timid about providing students with more in-depth sex education. They fear the outcry from parents and religious groups that information teaches youths but does not give them moral guidance.

"Teenagers don't need to be taught about sex, it's their natural drive," swears Kartono Mohammad. He believes that sex education must be provided by communication experts while focusing on independence, how to say no, and self esteem.

"Boys worry so much about performing," Djaelani added.

Ramonasari, a medical worker who has taught sex education sessions everywhere from large cities to the rural Kaliyanda district in South Lampung, stresses that teenagers have heartfelt worries. They range from the effects of masturbation to whether washing up after going to the toilet ruins virginity.


Youth groups at the recent International Conference for Population and Development in Cairo also raised their right to know about themselves.

Access to contraceptives is responded to with even more hostility than sex education.

"If I truly believe a teenager cannot stop his or her sexual activity, I suggest contraceptives," said a counselor who requested anonymity. But she emphasized the danger posed by health workers who do not know about the appropriate contraceptives for young bodies.

Another counselor said he is against recommending contraceptives to unwed youngsters, but admitted that detecting sexually active teens is difficult.

"Four out of ten phone calls are from teens who say they are sexually active," he said. And not many youngsters would admit such things publicly.

"They don't come to us burdened with their sexual activity," says Djaelani, "but because they have troubles in their relationships."

This includes pregnancies. Of the 100 cases she knew of in 1992, she said all but two or three ended in abortion; meaning that counselors failed to convince the young girls that there was a way out.

200 requests

A former counselor in the Yogyakarta, Pandu Kusuma Hadi, counted 200 requests for abortion in a single year at the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association clinic.

"We can't extend such a service to teenagers, the press would attack us," he said. He sadly recalled a young couple who insisted on an abortion because they were afraid of their families and were still in school. Pandu saw no way out and referred them to a clinic in Jakarta.

He was shocked when they returned.

"The girl was trembling and her face was white," Pandu related.

The couple could not leave home for two days without making their parents' suspicious and had gone to a traditional midwife instead.

"It looked like a stick had been inserted," Pandu exclaimed.

He told them to go to a nearby doctor, who prescribed medication.

On the way back the girl collapsed and they went to a hospital. The hospital staff mistakenly admitted her to the internal disease department, where she spent the night, before Pandu told them the girl had had an abortion.

"Just imagine all that they went through," he said. (anr)