Who is to blame when a child gets pregnant?

March 29, 2023 | 04:00 pm PT
Luu Dinh Long Book author
Not long ago, in the northern province of Bac Giang, which is a neighbor of Hanoi, a 13-year-old girl gave birth in the bathroom of her parents' house.

The father of the baby, who was 17 years old, was arrested shortly after.

Only when everything had happened did the family of the girl learn about her pregnancy.

I could not help but feel painful for both the baby and the immature parents.

A seventh-grade student having sexual feelings should not be a serious issue but rather should just be a normal physiological development. However, as I observed, the way teenagers fall into love these days has been very different from the past. For those born in the 1980s, like me, high school love just stopped at having a crush on someone, writing love letters, secretly glancing at each other, or just finding opportunities to go to school together.

For nine years I was in charge of the "Goc tam tinh" (Corner of Confiding) section of Ao Trang (White Shirt), a magazine for teenagers. Back in those days, 80% of the questions I received were about love and sex. Most students were confused about the strange feelings growing inside. For example, one girl wrote to me: "I have a crush on a boy two years older than me. We are both members of the school’s music club. I do not know how to talk to him. Should I tell him my feelings?"And another wrote,"I am in a relationship with a girl one year younger than me. We often hold hands when hanging out, and sometimes we kiss, but I am in fear of making her pregnant. Please help me!"

Adolescents, at any age, cannot help but be curious about such new feelings and changes of their bodies.

Usually, I am amused at their innocence.

However, more than a few times their innocence worried me as they had too little knowledge, such as the fear of "getting pregnant because of kissing."

At their ages, they should be equipped with basic knowledge about sex and reproductive health. If they were provided with sufficient and appropriate sex education, they would know how to handle their feelings instead of asking me such bewildering questions.

Cases like the 13-year-old student giving birth in Bac Giang are not rare in Vietnam.

As our living conditions have become better and better, kids are growing up faster as they consume more nutritious food and as a result, reach puberty earlier than before.

Meanwhile, society has been more open, allowing young people to have relationships and even have sex earlier than they should, while sex education has failed to catch up with their needs.

As a result, there have been more cases of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

According to a study on student health behavior published by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization last April, the ratio of those having their first sexual intercourse before 14 had increased from 1.45% in 2013 to 3.51% in 2019.

The Population Services International, a nonprofit global health organization with programs targeting malaria, child survival, HIV, and reproductive health based in the U.S., said last year that over 10% of unmarried girls aged 15-24 in Vietnam who were sexually active had an unintended pregnancy at least once.

Falling in love with someone at any age is not wrong, but having sex at a young age is an issue.

The law stipulates that those aged 16 will not be prosecuted if they and their partner both agree to have sex. But health experts recommend that males should not have sex before 20 and females should not engage in sexual activity before 18. Having sex at younger ages causes serious consequences as it impacts the development of the baby in the womb, such as height, premature birth, and malformation. Meanwhile, emergency contraceptive pills and abortions can cause infertility, leaving mothers with physical and mental pain.

If teenage girls are provided with such basic knowledge, they will know how to protect themselves better. If young men understand the law better, they will not dare to have sex with minors. However, our children are growing up faster while teachers and parents are still struggling with sex education.

Sex education is quite special and private. It is the responsibility of both schools and families. Fathers should talk to their sons about using condoms when they got their partners' consent. Mothers and elder sisters should talk to their daughters and younger sisters about their bodies, boundaries, and the consequences of stepping over them.

Such matters are hard to share in classes that are full of students, but it would be easier to share such education at home. Moreover, the sex experiences shared by fathers, mothers, elder sisters and brothers are much better than any books could provide.

Those intimate conversations will also help strengthen the family bond.

If parents still find it hard to teach their kids about sex, it will not be acceptable to force teachers and society to take the responsibility when a child gets pregnant.

*Luu Dinh Long is a book author.

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