Teenagers starting to have sex at a younger age, say social workers

A young couple embraces at East Coast Park.
A young couple embraces at East Coast Park.PHOTO: ST FILE

She was 12 years old and in Primary 6 when she got pregnant, giving birth last year.

She insisted on keeping the baby despite her parents' objections, as she could not bear to terminate the pregnancy.

Her boyfriend was 14 and her parents are looking after the baby.

Social workers who cited the case when interviewed by The Straits Times were quick to add that this was a rare case of the youngest mother they had seen.

A check with the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths, published annually by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, showed that in the past decade, fewer than 3 per cent of all the babies born to teens had mothers who were aged under 15.

But social workers said they are noticing that some teens are starting to have sex at a younger age and have multiple sexual partners.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, has spent the last 19 years working with young people. She said she has encountered teens these days who became sexually active as young as 12 or 13 years of age, compared with 15 or 16 years old a decade ago.

Social workers say teens are starting to have sex at a younger age because they are exposed to sex and sexuality issues online earlier. They also reach puberty earlier.

Amanda (not her real name), 15, resisted her 18-year-old boyfriend's sexual advances several times but finally gave in as she was afraid of losing him. They "did not think" about the consequences and did not use contraceptives, she said.

She found herself pregnant last year. Said the Secondary 3 student: "I didn't know how to face my mum when I found out I was pregnant. I didn't want to burden or disappoint her as I'm her only child."

She was so afraid her mother, who is divorced and working in the travel industry, would find out about her pregnancy that she did not go to a doctor for an abortion. Instead, her boyfriend bought her pills from Malaysia that induced a miscarriage.

Parental consent is not needed before a teenager is allowed to have an abortion.

Said a Health Ministry spokesman: "Given that many teenagers who go for an abortion may not have the necessary family support, there are concerns that some may be driven to backstreet abortions if we are to mandate parental consent for teenage abortions."

But girls under 16 are referred to the Health Promotion Board Counselling Centre for pre-abortion counselling, and are encouraged to discuss the decision with their parents.

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Teenagers 'starting to have sex at a younger age''. Print Edition | Subscribe