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    Guidance needed to prevent teen pregnancies

2006-03-18 07:01

They were 16-year-old classmates, studied together regularly and were clearly attracted to each other.

One afternoon, they were in the girl's bedroom with no one else at home doing their homework.

A brush of limbs, a touch here and there, then kisses, leading to the "forbidden thing."

The passion quickly dissipated as they realized their situation. The girl started to cry, the boy felt helpless and they panicked about an unwanted pregnancy.

Luckily, one of them remembered a hotline for counselling about teenage sex, Green Apple House, and dialled.

A woman's voice came on the line and tried to calm them; she asked when the girl had her last period and told them it was unlikely she would get pregnant.

They had nothing to be guilty about, she assured them; it was natural.

But an unwanted pregnancy could lead to an unhappy state of affairs and hurt their relationship.

She advised them to avoid situations where only the two of them would be by themselves or to use contraceptives.

"Many parents or teachers might find my advice outrageous, and some think it will encourage sexual experimentation," said Wang Xianglin, an expert who started as a volunteer at the China Population Communication and Education Centre (PCEC) three years ago. The PCEC is also called Green Apple House.

"But pretending it is not happening will not help," said Wang, who majored in psychology and medicine and is editor-in-chief of a Beijing-based magazine Care For Girl. She works for the Green Apple hotline twice a week.

PCEC, an offshoot of the China National Population and Family Planning Commission, is a State-level institution that deals with puberty, health and sex education. Zhang Xiaoji, director of the centre, agreed with Wang.

"Teen sex is inevitable," Zhang said. "It cannot be suppressed."

In a Nanfang Daily survey conducted with 192 students at a senior middle school in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, 17.7 said they had had a sexual experience, and 38.7 per cent had used condoms.

However, school and parental guidance on sex, although started far more than 20 years ago, can't keep up with fast-maturing teenagers, said Zhang.

In China, misleading or exaggerated sexual information in the media have changed teenagers?perceptions of sex, Zhang said. So, some turn to their classmates for advice. According to Zhang, a teenage girl became pregnant after sex because she didn't take any contraceptive measures except for following her friend's advice of squatting for 15 minutes after the sexual encounter.

The case is an old story for Haidian Maternal & Child Health Hospital in Beijing, which sees a peak in abortions after summer and winter vacations.

"Last week, a 16-year-old had an abortion,?said Wang Jinlin, a doctor with the hospital. "An 18-year-old gave birth to a baby a few days ago.?

"The kids have plenty of time at home during vacation, and they don't know how to protect themselves,?Wang said. "Then one month later, the girl is pregnant.?

Abortion is still a solution to unexpected pregnancies for many women in China. A regular abortion operation costs about 300 yuan (US$36), and the patient can walk out of the hospital three hours after the procedure.

Among the abortion operations the hospital performed last year, about 40 per cent were unmarried mothers.

According to Wang, though underage patients account for a small percentage of the total, the rate of underage pregnancies is growing, and the age is lower than in previous years.

"The youngest one I have seen is just 13-years-old," Wang said.

To help children avoid sexually transmitted diseases and to reduce teenage pregnancies, more hotlines and consultancies have been set up in recent years.

In Kunming, capital of Southwest China's Yunnan Province, a centre to help underage pregnancies was co-founded in 2004 by three local hospitals. Last year, the centre, which also has a consulting hotline, offered timely and free help to more than 1,000 pregnant girls under 18.

Despite experts?calls to expand the presence of such services and raise their quality, hotlines or consultancies are still scarce, particularly in rural areas, compared with the huge demand.

It is partly because of lack of government's attention, said Zhang.

Even larger institutions, such as the China Population Communication and Education Centre, where Wang Xianglin works, are short of hands to counsel young people on the phone or give lectures at schools.

Wang receives an average of nine calls a day from young people from different parts of the country. Each one lasts at least 40 minutes.

In one case, a 16-year-old girl from Beijing, who would not identify herself, said the hotline saved her from yielding to temptation at the very moment.

"When things were about to happen, her advice of being a strong girl pulled me back,?said the girl, who comes from a single-parent family. "Wang told me the courage to say no to my boyfriend shows I am a good girl, which will not make me lose him; rather, it will help me gain his respect and affection,?she recalled.

Wang said: "I am glad we are helpful,?adding that prevention is more important than fixing the scars left on a teenager's heart. Doctor Wang Jinlin, who has performed abortion operations for hundreds of women, urged that more prevention measures be taken among young people. "It's always better to push the brake before the car crashes,?she said.

(China Daily 03/18/2006 page1)


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