Alia Eyres, the Chief Executive Officer of Mother's Choice. Photo: Nora Tam

Mother's Choice provides lifeline for girls with crisis pregnancies in HK

Mother's Choice counsellors help hundreds of girls through crisis pregnancies each year in HK

She did not want her parents to find out. She was scared but wanted the problem to go away, and the dark, dirty, tiny place in this decrepit old Tseun Wan building that could be anybody's living room, and the 40ish woman with the medical kit, could help her deal with the problem growing in her abdomen.

Almost 10 years after a then-18-year-old Rose visited, Bobo, also 18, found herself in a similar situation. The clinic was in Mong Kok, not Tseun Wan, but the story is little changed.

It is still easy for young girls to find illegal clinics in Hong Kong. Operating by word of mouth, Bobo and Rose say most girls know someone who has visited one before. Bobo found one through friends who had terminations, and Rose through a colleague.

Around 7,000 girls face crisis pregnancies each year, according to a study last year by Bain and Company for Mother's Choice, a non-government organisation that has been counselling pregnant girls since 1987. It is a conservative estimate based on facts and figures obtained from health-care providers in Hong Kong, says Alia Marwah-Eyres, its chief executive.

"If anything, numbers are going up, not going down. The background and situation of the girl's hasn't really changed," Marwah-Eyres said. "That's the thing that's crazy for me. We've seen Hong Kong change in so many ways, but the population that we serve in Mother's Choice and the issues that we're kind of tackling have not really changed much at all.

"I know we had a mother and a daughter come in and just say, 'Please help us, my daughter is so depressed and we're just struggling, because she's just 14 and had a termination and she's just not doing well,'" Marwah-Eyres said. "And I realise, in our community, they really don't want to talk about crisis pregnancy."

The young women that Mother's Choice has been serving for the past 25 years come from poor and often broken families. They are all under 25 and quite a number under 16. To them, a HK$9.80 bus fare to Central from their homes in Kowloon or the New Territories is expensive. But most of all, the thought of telling their parents is worse than the thought of going to an illegal clinic, or across the border to get an abortion on the mainland, where they are cheap, easy, anonymous and legal, without the approval of two doctors needed in Hong Kong.

Their parents do not have the time to provide the support they need, and they end up looking for that love and support elsewhere.

From the time she was born until she was 17, Rose found herself shifted from home to home between relatives and family friends as her parents could not support her. At 18, she was pregnant with the baby of her 14-year-old boyfriend. "There wasn't much love in my life," Rose said.

It was her brother who brought her to Mother's Choice.

"Sometimes we get a response from people who don't really want to help us because they think that we're helping naughty girls and the thing that I just say to them: The girl's aren't naughty, they're really just desperate for love," Marwah-Eyres said. "We get them as young as 12 every year. All the girls staying in the hostel, I think, are under the age of 16 right now. The majority of the girls we serve are under 25.

"What we find is that many of them don't have someone telling them that their life has value, that they're worth it, basically building up their self-esteem."

This is where the housemother's women step in. "I want to tell them what it should be like in a family, what elements should be in a family," says Bing, a housemother of eight years who has held the hands of hundreds who have gone through the hostel.

Things are not quite as dire as they may have been before 1987. Sex education still has a long way to go, but the Family Planning Association and Mother's Choice have stepped up the educational role. Unlike before, girls have a place to go, and people who will not judge but help them through the months and years.

Girls who want to parent away from abusive boyfriends and family members have a safe place to stay, where they can pick up life and computer skills.

Rose is now working at Mother's Choice helping girls who have been in her situation. While her colleague who had an abortion at an illegal clinic found herself with an infection and needing after care, Rose put her baby girl up for adoption. "I had no financial support, my boyfriend was four years younger than me."

Bobo is due to give birth early next year. "Before I wanted to raise her, but now I'm wondering if adoption will be better. She will have a better life," she said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: NGO provides lifeline for pregnant teens