More services needed to combat teen pregnancy in the Pacific
UNPF says Pacific governments need to ensure more access to youth-friendly services to curb high teen pregnancy rates.
The United Nations Population Fund is urging Pacific governments to invest more in sex education and youth-friendly family planning centres to combat high rates of teen pregnancy.
It says while the number of teenage pregnancies in most Pacific nations is declining, several are still way above the world average of births per 1,000 teenage women.
Mary Baines reports.
The director of UNPF Pacific, Laurent Zessler, says teenage pregnancies are having concerning economic, societal and health impacts on Pacific nations. He says governments must do more to ensure youths' access to sex education, health services and contraception.
LAURENT ZESSLER: We have some governments that are tackling that very, very well, although some governments, you know, are facing more difficulties, due to their own health set-up. Because you can have access in the main centres, but when you are going to outer islands and more rural areas, sometimes services are not there, information is not there.
A UNPF report says teenage pregnancy in the Marshall Islands is the highest in the region, with 85 in every 1,000 teenage women becoming pregnant. It says rates of teenage pregnancies in Nauru, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands are also high - with those nations' teenage pregnancy rates between six to eight percent. The administrator for Youth to Youth in Health in the Marshall Islands, Peter Hopkins, says it is working with the government to find out why teen pregnancy is so high there.
PETER HOPKINS: We're realising now that we are missing something. There's a piece of this puzzle that we don't know. And so we're looking to engage with as many stakeholders as possible and find an effective strategy that we can have a positive effect on this number. Because we're not sure of what the significant issue is."
Mr Hopkins says a sex education curriculum is yet to be endorsed by the government, but Youth to Youth has an extensive outreach programme. He says it is introducing peer education workshops on some outer atolls to train youths be advocates and communicators on safe sex in their communities.
PETER HOPKINS: We've developed programmes and tools and ways to engage with these topics in sensitive ways that is non-threatening. But it is not something that is discussed within families, within communities. Kids and teenagers don't know what options they have and what services and support networks they have access to.
The manager of a reproductive health clinic on the outskirts of Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, Wan Smolbag, says it had to expand because of growing demand for services. But Siula Bulu says there are still a number of cultural barriers to young people accessing the clinic.
SIULA BULU: It's difficult for the girls to insist on using protection or insist on using family planning. Because of the culture and the church, the family don't approve of young people using family planning. We just have to keep encouraging the community to see the benefit of having young people delay pregnancy.
An NGO in American Samoa says a lack of sex education is the biggest barrier to curbing teen pregnancy there. The project manager of Intersections, Ioso Iaulualo, says despite the federal government funding its education programme, the Department of Education will not approve it to be taught in schools.
IOSO IAULUALO: We have been hit by barriers just because sex education, I would say, is not accepted in American Samoa. And that's why we have this issue of kids, young teenagers, getting pregnant because they're not getting educated.
Loso Iaulualo says many youths are afraid to go to health clinics to get contraception in case they get scolded.
This is Mary Baines.
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