Social workers fret over plight of pregnant teens
Yanyi wept when she read about a teenage father dumping his newborn daughter on a remote hillside after his girlfriend gave birth in the toilet at home without her family knowing she was pregnant. It brought back memories for the 19-year-old of her own pregnancy two years ago, which was ended after four months by an abortion in the mainland.
Last week's was the sixth case this year of a newborn child being abandoned. It also highlights the confusion, sexual ignorance and distorted values that worry social workers the most about the 800-odd teen pregnancies that occur every year.
Yanyi - not her real name - said that when she started having sex with her boyfriend she had no idea about contraception or the seriousness of creating a new life.
'We did not use anything like a condom although we were having sex,' she said. She even believed that a shower after intercourse could diminish the chance of pregnancy.
Social workers say a lack of proper sex education means young people get most of their information from the internet, which emphasises the joy of sex rather than the seriousness of life.
'Some teenagers misunderstand pregnancy as not something special, which they think they can handle themselves and do not consider the impact of an abortion on their mental and physical health,' said Ko Po-lun, outreach team leader of the Hong Kong Young Women's Christian Association. 'In some cases a pregnant teenager may already have had two or three abortions,' he said. The youngest pregnant teenager he had dealt with was 13.
Suvan Law Sui-wan, pregnant-girl-services team leader of Mother's Choice, a charity that helps young single mothers, said many teenagers had distorted values.
'They are full of curiosity on sex and some see it as the only way to express love, without any knowledge of venereal diseases, pregnancy and the legal aspects,' Law said.
Yanyi said education at school about sex and life was 'really bad'. Students were taught to understand their bodies and organs, but did not get enough information on contraception and what do if they got pregnant, she said.
If the government was willing to spend resources on tracking drug abuse in schools it should also 'do something useful' about sex education, she said.
'Once I confirmed my pregnancy, I was so scared I kept crying and nearly collapsed,' she said.
'My boyfriend and I did not really deal with the issue until I was at four months' gestation.'
After weeks of not facing up to the issue, during which she and her boyfriend spent most of their time 'running away' for holiday breaks on outlying islands, Yanyi got the support of her family.
'I sent my brother a text message saying how I missed home,' she said. Her brother got back to her and she went home and told her mother.
'I was so glad my parents welcomed me home, and talked with me,' Yanyi said. She eventually decided to have the abortion with the backing of her family, but her boyfriend left her afterwards.
Yanyi says she is shocked at how friends deal with pregnancy.
'One male friend told me I was the first one to know about the pregnancy of his girlfriend, then he suddenly revealed the baby had already been born.'
While the number of teenage pregnancies remains steady, social workers say an increasing number come from low-income families and those living in public housing estates, with both parents working long hours.
'As those teenagers do not have much pocket money, they get together at each others' homes,' Ko, of the YWCA, said. 'We heard in some cases about teenagers having sex without any contraceptive measures after watching DVDs at home.'
Some had sex because they were bored at home.
Like Yanyi, many teenagers usually delay dealing with pregnancy for as long as possible.
Chan Man-ho, leader of the youth-at-risk unit of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, said they would discuss it with friends and classmates as they were worried about being condemned by their parents if they spoke to them about it.
Lacking a clear idea about the new life involved, these discussions would usually focus on where to get an abortion or what food and medicines could bring about a miscarriage.
Often the teenage fathers would vanish, either because they were afraid to handle the issue or they feared prosecution for having sex with a minor, Chan said.
Mother's Choice appealed for youngsters to seek help from youth groups, social workers or parents.
'The earlier they disclose the issue or talk about it with social workers or parents, the more options and choices are open for them,' Law said.
Some were often surprised at how open-minded their parents were when they found out.
More education on parenthood and especially sex education is needed, social workers say.
'Many parents really love and care about their children and know there is a need to talk with them about sex, but most of them don't know how to approach their children to start this conversation,' Ko said.
The Mother's Choice hotline is 2868 2022