A Pregnant Problem
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A Pregnant Problem

By Louis Reh NOVEMBER, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.11


Young women trapped by dogma and the generation gap


It’s only a couple of years ago that young people living in and around the Karenni refugee camp at Ban Tractor in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province were able to help themselves to free condoms from boxes attached to trees and wayside posts. It was the idea of the camp health department director, Say Reh, who had been growing increasingly concerned about the rising numbers of young unmarried women becoming pregnant and also about the risk of HIV/AIDS in the community.


But it was a short-lived idea. Say Reh had to abandon his solo birth-control effort after three months because of strong opposition from many of the camp residents and Catholic and Protestant church ministers. “Older people here believe that distributing condoms and organizing sex education encourages young people to indulge in sex,” says Say Reh.


Although he’s abandoned his free condoms initiative, Say Reh and some of his co-workers still hold occasional sex education classes for the young people of Ban Tractor, under the watchful eye of disapproving elder members of the community. “The problem is that parents are sensitive on sex issues and many are illiterate, so they don’t know how to educate their children and guard them from unwanted pregnancies,” he says.


Unwanted pregnancies—it’s a term visitors to refugee camps in the border areas of Thailand frequently meet. More than 100 young women, many of them teenagers, become pregnant every year in the Ban Tractor camp, which is run by a group of organizations, including the International Rescue Committee.


Many of the young mothers lie about their age, according to Preh Meh, a medic at the Ban Tractor clinic. Many others avoid the clinic altogether and consequently don’t appear in the official pregnancy records, she says.


The clinic is under instructions to hand out condoms only to married couples, who have to register to receive them. No condoms are to be found on the shelves of Ban Tractor’s general supply stores.


“I had no idea how to prevent my pregnancy,” said Maria, 17. She’s five months pregnant and is resigned to interrupting her studies in order to give birth and nurse her baby. “I have to start my life again at the beginning,” she says, tearfully. “I don’t think any school will accept a pregnant student like me.”


Another Ban Tractor teenager, Doh Meh, 16, dropped out of school to give birth to her illegitimate child. Doh Meh is one of eight children.

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