Taking Down Teenage Taboos: Talking about Sex to Prevent and Reduce Child Marriage
<em>“I was empowered with the learning that as girls we can make our choices of our own and no one has the right to force us to do anything we do not like.”</em><br>Orn, a 16-year-old girl from Thailand.
Huddled in a circle and deep in discussion, teenagers in northern Thailand are talking openly about the myths of sex, the dangers and risks of early pregnancy, marrying too young and how to put a condom on. They are animated, intrigued and keen to debate and learn about the taboos that are so often filtered within the classroom halls and family homes.
Among the most curious is Orn, a 16-year-old girl, leading the discussions and answering questions other teenagers have been bursting to know but were too scared to ask.
Usually, discussion on such topics would have been rare with any families and communities who believe talking about sex and pregnancy to teenagers is difficult.
The Power of Conversation
Yet, in northern Thailand, these awkward conversations are being turned around. Through training sessions and regular discussion groups held by Plan International Thailand’s Teen Power for Better Life project, young girls, mostly from rural parts of the country, confidently learn about topics like conception, contraception, sexual and reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Through these lessons, girls are able to discover the links between early marriage, adolescent pregnancies and gender discrimination. Crucially, Teen Power for Better Life encourages everyone to take the lead and become inspirational youth leaders of change, like Orn.
“I am working with other volunteers to disseminate knowledge about sexual reproductive health and rights, focusing on raising awareness on child marriage among other children and youths,” said Orn. “Now I feel more confident and prouder of myself, being able to help others.”
Until Orn joined Teen Power for Better Life, she believed, like most girls in her community, she was destined for early marriage and motherhood.
“I was empowered with the learning that as girls we can make our choices of our own and no one has the right to force us to do anything we do not like. I have learned more about sexual and reproductive health and rights. I am aware now that social norms influence practices leading to gender inequality in my community and child marriage.”
The reason so many girls in her village marry and have children at such a tender age mostly has to do with economics and family pressure to conform to traditionally accepted ways of life. Local officials, particularly in rural areas, are said to often turn a blind eye to this harmful practice.
“Every child has a right to dream, to study and to pursue their futures, not to be a wife or a mother at a young age,” said Orn.
The Power of Training
Teen Power for Better life’s training is beginning to have an impact. In March 2021, youth representatives participated in a network meeting for the project to discuss accessing sexual reproductive health information at the local level. In addition, representatives, particularly young women who participated in the training, presented recommendations to government agencies on National Youth Day, 20th September 2021. The common consensus was that more access to information on sexual and reproductive health was desperately needed – which had been limited owing to COVID-19. Female youth leaders are also working with a diverse set of stakeholders, from local administrative organizations to community development officers, to codify ideas to improve the rights and quality of life for youths. These grassroots efforts are gradually paying off, and some youth groups will receive state funding next year.
“After the training, I realized that if I married early, I might not be able to follow my dream to be a businesswoman. I want to study and obtain a degree, not to be someone’s wife only,” said Orn. “Girls in my village give up their lives because the community thinks you are a good person only if you obey your parents. But this causes suffering for many children.”
These days Orn continues her life as a youth leader for Teen Power for Better Life. She works alongside other volunteers delivering knowledge about sexual reproductive health and early marriage challenges.
“I hope that parents and society know that child marriage is a social problem. It has a negative effect on the life of a child. We need to stop tolerating child marriage, supporting girls instead to complete their schooling and enroll in higher education to pursue their dreams better,” said Orn. “I want to raise my voice to governments and relevant organizations to invest in interventions to eliminate child, early and forced marriage.”
Teen Power for Better Life
In response to the ongoing issues of child, early and forced marriage, Plan International Thailand’s multi-pronged Teen Power for Better Life project has been raising awareness about the many perils of child marriage. The project carries out five-day “Under 18: No Marriage and Pregnancy” training courses throughout the country. Recent training in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai attracted about 330 children.
During these sessions girls learn about gender frameworks, gender norms and gender inequality. They also learn about family planning, safely using a condom, and adolescent development. However, the topics that often leave the most lasting impression are the sessions on the physical, material and mental effects of early marriage and pregnancy on girls.
Girls Get Equal, Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Youth empowerment, Activism, child marriage, Civic engagement, Comprehensive sexuality education, girls’ leadership, Menstruation, Teenage pregnancy