HK feels the pain of crisis pregnancies
Unplanned pregnancies leave thousands of girls - some as young as 14 or 15 - in crisis each year, barely different from 25 years ago despite greater access to education, a charity says.
The young age of mothers who get pregnant by accident highlights the need for better sex education in schools, says Alia Eyres, chief executive of Mother's Choice, which counsels women and cares for babies and children awaiting adoption.
'There isn't much difference in our community. We're still finding we have thousands of young women calling in [to seek help every year],' Eyres told the Sunday Morning Post ahead of Mother's Day today.
Research shows more than half of about 7,000 women in Hong Kong each year with 'crisis pregnancies' are unwed and under 25 - a problem that 34-year-old Eyres describes as shocking.
'We have so many more educational opportunities [than 25 years ago]. But there are still so many in need,' Eyres said.
'There are many broken homes and children who are left without supervision, without a loving and protective environment,' she said.
Figures from 2011 by consulting firm Bain & Company put the annual number of crisis pregnancies in Hong Kong at between 6,500 and 7,300, around 4,000 of which occurred among unmarried mothers, most under 25 years old.
'The average age [of these mothers] is very young. It's something like 143/4. Almost all our girls are below 21, most of them from very poor families, broken homes and single-parent families,' Eyres said. 'The need is still there, still huge.'
Although many schools teach sex education, Eyres says the lessons approach the subject in purely scientific terms and do not explore the practicalities of being in a sexual relationship.
'They should let young women know they are empowered to say no [to sex] when they feel uncomfortable. So many [women] came to us and say they didn't feel like they had a choice,' Eyres said.
Mother's Choice received 2,564 calls on their hotline and helped 2,822 people last year. It also took care of 75 babies up to two years old, along with 18 babies with special needs up to six years old. Of these, 48 were eventually adopted.
Complicating the problem is that some young mothers, after their crisis pregnancies, fear giving up their babies even if there are many families who can provide good homes.
'[The young woman] is afraid of what might happen to the baby in a family that she doesn't know,' Eyres said.
She estimates about 3,300 children are put into full-time care outside their families each year, of which only 120 to 180 are adopted. Most of the 3,300 children are not suitable for adoption because they are likely to be reunited with their parents, and there are children who need adoption but do not get it.
Some young mothers would rather leave their children in foster care or a 'small group home' like those provided by the Social Welfare Department or non-governmental groups.
Eyres acknowledges that there is a stigma that comes with adoption, and she hopes people view it as something to be celebrated.
'Families go through so much to become qualified for adoption, and it really takes a special family to be willing to adopt,' Eyres said.
In Hong Kong, the baby must be at least four weeks old to be adopted and the birth parents must complete relinquishment procedures. If the child is abandoned or his birth parents are untraceable, a court needs to declare the child free for adoption.
Government figures show 112 children were waiting for adoption by the end of last year, an increase from 87 in 2010.
The rate of out-of-wedlock births in Iceland last year, the highest recorded among OECD countries