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No sex education please, we're Chinese

By Tan Weiyun  (Shanghai Daily)

09:01, August 04, 2011

Statistics show more Chinese teen girls are getting pregnant due to a lack of sex education, yet many schools and teachers feel such a course in unnecessary. Tan Weiyun reports.

Zhang Zhengrong from Shanghai 411 Hospital is much busier than usual these days. She operates Shanghai's only hotline, 6587-6866, for pregnant girls.

The summer is busy as teens are out of school and have more time to be sexually active.

"We are usually busiest two to three months after the summer vacation and other festivals such as Valentine's Day. Sometimes we receive almost 1,000 phone calls a day from teenagers," says Zhang, director of the hotline, who has worked in the field of obstetrics and gynecology for over 20 years.

She says it's clear that sex education needs to be introduced in local schools as teenage callers frequently ask questions like: "Will I get pregnant if my boyfriend kisses me?" "Can I have another abortion after only one month?" and "Am I a bad girl/boy if I masturbate often?" The hotline director says she knows one girl who has had 13 abortions and another who was only 13 years old when she got pregnant.

The hotline provides free consultation about sex, safe intercourse, pregnancy and self-protection skills. Hotline operators also arrange free abortions for teen girls.

The hotline started in 2006 and has since received more than 50,000 calls, helping almost 4,000 pregnant girls get an abortion.

Zhang says she is worried because the number of girls getting pregnant has soared in recent years. According to the call center, of the girls they have helped get an abortion, 10 percent have had two abortions while another 3 percent have had more than three abortions.

Another three percent have either taken an abortion pill or had an abortion at an unlicensed clinic. Zhang says going to unlicensed clinics raises the risk of damage to a girl's reproductive system.

"In most cases these teen girls are having unprotected sex," Zhang says.

Despite this alarming trend, Zhang says she is more upset about the attitude some of these girls have toward early sexual relationships and abortion.

She says she and her colleagues conducted a poll of callers and found that more than 30 percent of the pregnant girls think abortion is "nothing serious."

Another 50 percent had an extremely calm attitude about abortion, which is unusual for girls at that age. She says only 20 percent expressed "normal" emotions such as fear and worry about getting pregnant.

Zhang says another alarming trend is that girls are getting pregnant at a younger age. Five years ago, the majority were late teens in the senior year of high school or in the first year of college, but now middle school girls of 14 and 15 account for most of the teens getting abortions.

"Sometimes I just don't know how to communicate with them," Zhang says. "I tell them that they might be infected with venereal diseases and need further checks, but they say, 'I don't care. Just get rid of the baby'."

The doctors says it's as if the girls don't care about their health at all and they think everything will be fine after the abortion.

"I'm horrified at the lack of proper sex education, which should be taught at school and by their parents at home," she says.

Unfortunately, talking about sex is often taboo in China. Parents often feel too embarrassed to talk about it and also feel they are, in a way, protecting their children. These parents essentially think "if my child doesn't know about sex, he or she won't worry about it."

However, the lack of sex education has led to some shocking stories.

Two years ago a father in Shanghai rushed his 19-year-old daughter to a hospital after she had given birth to a baby at home. In order not to be discovered by her parents, the young woman secretly delivered the baby herself in the toilet. Then she put the baby in a plastic bag and threw it in a neighborhood garbage can.

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