January 22, 2024
SINGAPORE – The number of babies born to teenagers has halved in the past decade, and counsellors say this is largely because today’s teens are a lot more savvy about using contraception.
In 2022, 218 babies were born to teens aged 19 and younger.
This is fewer than half of the 487 babies born to teenagers in 2013, according to the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2022 published by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. The 2022 figures are the latest available.
Meanwhile, when The Straits Times asked the Health Ministry about teen abortions in the past decade, a spokesman said the incidence rate of abortions has remained largely unchanged at about two in 1,000 teens from 2018 to 2022.
The issue of teen pregnancy came up during a recent court case where a 15-year-old girl became pregnant after having sex with a 14-year-old boy. Concealing the pregnancy from their parents, they tried to abort the foetus on their own.
Their methods, which they found online, included the girl inserting a clothes hanger into her body in an attempt to pull the foetus out, taking abortion pills, and having her abdomen punched and kneed by the boy.
The girl gave birth to a stillborn son in 2021.
She kept the body of her stillborn child in her cabinet for two days before burying him in the garden of her house at her boyfriend’s instigation.
In December 2023, the boy was found guilty of sexual penetration of a minor and abetting the girl in concealing the birth by burying the child. The boy, who is now 18, is awaiting sentencing.
ST understands that the girl has been given a conditional warning for her role in the case.
Counsellors said a key reason behind the fall in the number of teen mums is that today’s young people are more savvy about using contraception.
Ms Shazana Sharif, a social worker at AMP Singapore, a non-profit serving the Muslim community, said: “Generally, there has been an improvement in teens’ knowledge and the use of contraception compared to previous generations.
“Increased access to information through the Internet, comprehensive sex education programmes, and greater awareness of contraception methods have contributed to teenagers being more informed.”
Counsellors said the falling numbers should not be interpreted as fewer teens having sex.
In fact, teens are starting to be sexually active at a younger age, and some counsellors even see pregnant teens as young as 13 asking for help, they said.
Ms Lena Teo, director of programmes and services at Care Singapore, which helps at-risk youth, said that with the proliferation of social media and online pornography, sexual behaviour has become normalised.
She added: “To certain groups of youth – but not for all teens – they want to appear cool, to be in the know, and they are looking for acceptance (from their friends).
“It is seen as cool to have sexual experience, especially for the boys. For the girls, they feel they are loved and wanted if they have a boyfriend, and it’s like their sense of self-worth goes up.”
But in the event of a pregnancy, counsellors said, some teens try to terminate it without going to a doctor for various reasons.
They fear the repercussions if their parents, school or the authorities were to find out about the pregnancy.
For example, the male partner could be afraid of getting into trouble with the law if it is known that the girl is pregnant, said Mrs Jennifer Heng, director of Safe Place, which helps pregnant women in distress.
It is an offence to have sex with a person under the age of 16, even if the person consents to it. If the girl is under 14, the offence is called statutory rape.
Ms Shazana said that another fear some young couples have is that their parents would force them to marry, so they do not have the child out of wedlock.
A spokeswoman for Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support, a charity which supports pregnant teens, said some young people resort to unsafe methods or substances in their bid to terminate the pregnancy as they cannot afford to pay for an abortion at a clinic or hospital, which can cost between $800 and $5,000.
She said: “Some may be reluctant to disclose their situation to their parents due to various reasons, including fear of judgment, cultural stigmas, or strained relationships. This fear may lead to delays in seeking medical assistance and, in turn, increase the risks associated with unsafe practices.”
To prevent teens from resorting to unsafe ways to abort the foetus, counsellors said that sex education is crucial.
The Babes spokeswoman said there is a need to strengthen reproductive and sexual health education in schools so that teens are well-informed about the consequences of getting pregnant, the legal framework surrounding sexual activity and safe methods for handling unplanned pregnancies.
Counsellors added that parents also need to have more open conversations with their children regarding relationships and sex, even if it is hard to broach such topics.