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Wed, Feb 11, 2009
The Straits Times
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Sexually active teens getting infections
by Carolyn Quek & Kimberly Spykerman

SEXUALLY transmitted infections (STIs) among teenagers have become a reality, with more of them engaging in sex.

In the five years between 2004 and last year, 518 girls aged between 12 and 16 were diagnosed with STIs at the clinic in Kelantan Lane run by the Department of STI Control.

Among boys, the figure was 119, over the same period of time.

Dr Tan Hiok Hee, who heads the clinic, said the youngest female patient was 14, and the youngest male, 15.

Chlamydia is the most common infection in young girls, he said of the bacterial infection that often does not produce symptoms but can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and raise the risk of ectopic pregnancy and future infertility.

But even if sexually active teenagers do not pick up diseases, they may have to deal with unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

The number of babies born to mothers aged below 15 has been fairly stable, at about 15 a year in the last five years.

Going by provisional figures for last year, 10 babies were born to mothers under 15 and 798 to mothers aged 15 to 19.

The number of teenagers seeking abortions was about 1,400 in 2006, with a similar number for 2007.

Interest groups have targeted programmes at youth, advocating abstinence or safe sex.

For example, Focus on the Family runs two main sexuality-education programmes, including one which gives parents and educators the teaching tools to broach the topic.

The Association of Women for Action and Research also runs sexuality-education sessions to educate girls on sex and its implications, in the hope that they will make safe decisions when it comes to sex.

Sanctuary House, besides caring for unwanted babies, plans to convey the stark responsibilities of parenthood to pairs of youth - by making them play parents to a computerised infant who constantly needs to be fed, burped, changed and cared for - on pain of being labelled as 'abusive' parents.

Mr Tan said of this program offering a virtual peek into parenthood: 'We want to tell the teens that this is what happens when you get pregnant and give birth.

'This is pre-emptive because they get to experience what it's like taking care of a baby the whole night with the sleep deprivation...

'The question is: Do you want to go there?'

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 9, 2009.

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