Malaysian adolescents lack SRH knowledge, face barriers to accessing supplies - Report

19 Oct 2023 04:36pm
Pix for illustration purpose only. - Photo by 123RF
Pix for illustration purpose only. - Photo by 123RF

SHAH ALAM - Lack of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and barriers to SRH supplies are the major factors contributing to adolescent pregnancy in Malaysia, according to a new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPA) and Unicef.

The report, titled "Understanding pathways to adolescent pregnancy in Southeast Asia," found that most girls in the study lacked knowledge of SRH topics, including sex, reproduction, pregnancy, and contraception.

"In few cases, the participants reported missing out on learning about SRH in school because they had left school early for other reasons. "Some girls in the study believed that the SRH information they received at school was not relevant to them at the time or they were simply 'not interested' in the information," the report said.

The report also found that girls who were interested in learning about SRH were often shy to ask questions because they were afraid of being stigmatised.

In addition to the lack of SRH information, girls in the study also faced barriers to accessing SRH supplies.

"The reports also reveal that girls lack SRH knowledge in some of myths and misconceptions about contraception that they shared, which prevented them from accessing and using contraceptives," the report said.

A few girls expressed fears about contraceptives "causing infertility," which they had usually heard from peers.

Others did not think they would or could get pregnant or believed that withdrawal was effective for preventing pregnancy.

The report also found that married and unmarried girls faced different barriers to contraceptive access.

"For example, a married girl felt that she had no barriers to access, as her husband bought contraceptives when they needed or wanted to use them, but the situation would be much different for girls whose husbands do not support contraceptive use," the report said.

On the other hand, an unmarried girl noted that it is difficult to get some contraceptives from government-run health facilities (choices were limited to pills or injections only), and another unmarried girl reported feeling shy to buy contraceptives at public places, like pharmacies.

The report also found that Malaysian adolescents are not comfortable accessing SRH services through primary healthcare facilities mainly because they feel embarrassed.

Marriage practices to protect a girl and her family's reputation facilitate adolescent pregnancy

The report also found that marriage practices to protect a girl and her family's reputation can facilitate adolescent pregnancy.

"In most cases in this study, adolescent pregnancy gave way to child marriage and early union.

"Marriage to protect a girl and family's reputation facilitate adolescent pregnancy," report said.

The report found that marriage to protect a girl and her family's reputation was sometimes deemed necessary by the girl's family following an unplanned pregnancy.

However, for 14 girls, child marriage facilitated adolescent pregnancy.

In a few cases, marriage was initiated after a girl was caught in a room with a man.

Among girls in the study who entered unions, regardless of timing relative to pregnancy, the median age at marriage was lower among girls who entered parent or partner-led unions (15 years) compared to girls who entered couple-led unions (17 years).

The findings suggest that when girls have a say in the decision to marry, they may choose to marry later (or choose not to marry) compared to if the decision was made for them.

During follow-up interviews, girls conveyed that parents, especially fathers, usually determine when it is suitable for a girl to get married.

The findings show the persistence of harmful gender norms that view child marriage as a pre-emptive measure against "sinful" premarital sex and a "solution" to out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

Participants of the findings

The participants of the findings were Malay and Orang Asli.

More than half of the participants were from Pahang, with the rest residing in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

The participants were in the age range from 16 to 20-years-old.