Teens having babies

National 5 minutes, 3 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

WHILE her classmates were spending their high school years studying and preparing for the O-level examinations, 18-year-old Elda was getting ready for motherhood but was also struggling to keep it a secret.

Fearful of the consequences for being pregnant out of wedlock , Elda hid the truth from everyone including her parents until just weeks before her delivery.

“I remember feeling very scared and nervous. I didn’t know what to do or how to break it to my parents. I wasn’t aware of the consequences of having sex,” said the young mother, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

“I was young, in love and didn’t know the repercussions of having sex. I was careless,” she said.

Elda was among the four per cent of Brunei’s annual birth rate who got pregnant in their teens due to unsafe sex. In the past five years, at least 200 out of Brunei’s 7,000 annual birth rates are attributed to unplanned teenage pregnancies.

Recalling her ordeal three years ago, Elda, who is now 21 years old, knew then that her life was about to drastically change. “I realised something was happening inside my stomach, I didn’t know I was pregnant but because I was frequently having sex with my boyfriend, I decided to get a pregnancy test and that’s how I found out,” she said.

Her pregnancy was later confirmed after a visit to a clinic in the capital, where the doctor told her that she was already 16 weeks into her pregnancy. “My mom didn’t know anything about my pregnancy until just weeks before my due date, she kept on commenting on how different I looked but I would brush it off. My husband’s father asked why we didn’t tell them earlier and that we should not let our friends and relatives know about it until after our wedding,” she said.

Elda ended up marrying her husband two months after finding out that she was heavy with the baby and later dropped out of school. “I couldn’t concentrate on my exams, I was worried about my pregnancy.”

The marriage saved Elda from turning into an unwed pregnant teenager, but when asked if she regretted becoming a young parent, Elda said: “Absolutely. I could have completed my studies and enjoyed life as a teenager. Priorities changed so much, too fast.”

Now with three children, Elda is financially dependent on her family and her husband, who is a teacher paid on a daily rate.

Having experienced the fear and anxiety of unplanned pregnancy, Elda is advising teenage girls to practice abstinence, noting the consequences not only burden family members but also affect the mother’s, child’s and family’s future.

A 19-year-old mother who wished to be known only as Hana also talked about the challenges of being pregnant at the young age of 15.

“I just remember sitting in a room with my mother, waiting for the doctor to tell me what my problem was, and that’s when everything changed in a blink of an eye. It wasn’t stomach flu, I was pregnant,” she said.

“I cried in disbelief but this is the consequence of having sex before marriage. I was embarrassed and ashamed but what’s done is done,” said Hana, adding that emotions swelled throughout her pregnancy.

Unlike Elda, Hana’s boyfriend who was also 15 years old at that time, refused to take responsibility of the child. Hana was left on her own and unwed.

According to Islamic law, orphans are defined in a number of ways — children whose father has died, children borne out of wedlock or abandoned, or children disowned through an oath given by a husband and wife denying parentage.

Unemployed and relying on Brunei Islamic Religious Council’s welfare fund of $395 every month, Hana is now heavily dependent on her mother.

And like Elda, Hana also learned her lessons too late. Had she known the long-term impacts of her action four years ago, she said she would have focused more on her studies and less on boys.

“I was naive, there are so many things I wish I would’ve done differently and known better,” said the teenage mother.

“I don’t wish this to happen to anybody else, study hard and think of your future and goals. You may think you’re in love but if he loves you, he will wait,” said Hana.

Figures from a religious talk held last month involving the Community Development Department (JAPEM) showed an estimated 88 to 95 per cent of teenage pregnancies in Brunei from 2014 to 2015 occurred among Muslim youths. The figure was for all pregnancies outside of wedlock among girls aged between 12 and 19.

Dr Khadizah Hj Mumin, a Universiti Brunei Darussalam lecturer at Pengiran Anak Puteri Rashidah Sa’adatul Bolkiah Institute of Health Sciences (PAPRSB HIS) and who specialises in nursing and midwifery, said teenage pregnancy remains one of the top social issues among adolescents in Brunei.

She warned that teenage mothers were at higher risk of giving birth to premature babies and newborn with low birth weight.

On the sidelines of a teenage pregnancy talk held at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital, Dr Khadizah stressed the need for a stronger social awareness on teenage pregnancy in Brunei.

“Education plays a key role in teen pregnancy prevention, it’s a taboo still in Brunei but we must address this to prevent it from worsening, we need to empower young adults and talk about it so they know,” said Dr Khadizah, adding that to curtail teen pregnancies from thriving, a “whole-nation” approach would be vital.

The Ministry of Education is looking to introduce an awareness programme that will teach Year Eight students about reproductive health as part of the efforts to curb the number of unplanned pregnancies among the young girls.

While there is no time frame given when the reproductive health awareness programme will be introduced in schools, MoE is planning to train more teachers about sexual health so they can disseminate useful and accurate information.

The Brunei Times