Students at a high school under the Ho Chi Minh City University of Pedagogy. Vietnam aims to invest more in youth to tackle increasing teen pregnancy. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach
A 16-year-old girl was recently admitted to the Ho Chi Minh City’s Gia Dinh Hospital for severe hemorrhaging caused by an abortion at a private clinic outside of town.
“My friends told me about the clinic in Long An which supplies abortion services for even mature fetuses,” said the girl from Dak Lak Province, who asked to remain anonymous.
Similar cases have become more common in Vietnam as experts called for more investment in sex education and access to reproductive healthcare amid rising teen pregnancy.
Dr Le Van Hien, who treated the Dak Lak girl, said the patient was more than 24 months into her pregnancy: “The clinic that conducted the abortion still left the fetus’ hands and legs in her womb, which was torn during the surgery.”
“The clinic in Long An was supplying the service illegally for sure,” he told Thanh Nien News.
A government decree stipulate that private clinics can obtain licenses to conduct abortions for people at less than six weeks of pregnancy. Others have to be examined at public hospitals where doctors must decide whether to perform an abortion demands for the sake of the mother’s health.
Rising teen pregnancy
During a conference on July 11, Dr Nguyen Huu Hung, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Health Department said there have been rising cases of abortions among young people, including repeated abortions.
Hung was speaking at a conference to mark World Population Day (July 11) which focused on investing in youth.
According to the United Nations' Population Fund, Vietnam is one of the five countries with the highest abortion rates worldwide and tops the South East Asia region.
About 46 of every 1,000 women give birth between the ages of 15-19, according to the organization.
Tran Van Tri, deputy director of the HCMC Population and Family Planning Agency, said a major proportion of adolescents and young people lack a basic knowledge of reproductive health.
In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City has one of the highest adolescent abortion rates -- a rate that has significantly increased during the past several years.
In 2013, nearly four percent of abortion cases were adolescent, double the proportion in 2010, Tri said.
Dr Dang Le Dung Hanh at Hung Vuong Hospital said that young Vietnamese, especially students and young workers, face great threats to their reproductive health due to limited knowledge.
“Many of them do not think about the risk of becoming pregnant when involved in sexual activities,” she told Thanh Nien News.
“They are not equipped with contraceptive knowledge. Others were embarrassed or have financial difficulties, leading to unexpected pregnancy.”
“The clinic that conducted the abortion still left the fetus’ hands and legs in her womb, which was torn during the surgery.” said Dr Le Van Hien of Gia Dinh Hospital
Hai said that due to lack of relevant knowledge, again, they recognize pregnancy late before deciding to abort it.
“Many of them are afraid of going to public hospitals and seek abortions at private facilities where they often must submit to two or three procedures due to inexperienced doctors and a lack of equipment.”
“These facilities often do not warn the patients about signs of complications, which can cause bleeding or permanently damage one's reproductive capacity.”
Hanh said that abortions performed on those pregnant who are more than 12 weeks pregnant can surely damage their health and carries higher risks of bleeding and complications, including infertility, besides serious psychological impacts.
Many parents in Vietnam avoid talking about sex with their children as they are embarrassed and consider it a sensitive issue; researchers say this reticence has contributed to rising teen pregnancy.
According to a survey released recently by the Hanoi-based Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, nearly 70 percent of surveyed secondary school students said their parents have never talked to them about sex or reproductive health.
The survey polled 250 students in Hanoi and found 18 percent of them said their parents paid no attention when they tried to talk about these issues and 29 percent said their parents listened and understood but said nothing.
More seriously, 7.3 percent said their parents issued “heavy warnings” about sex which disappointed them.
The embarrassment of parents, who considered sexual activity a sensitive issue, has led to a high number of teen pregnancy and abortion, the survey concluded.
According to the Health Ministry, a third of young Vietnamese do not have access to contraception.
Due to their limited information on reproductive health, many young people engage in sex without thinking about the relevant risks.
An 11th grader in Ho Chi Minh City, who asked to be identified only as T, said she has a boyfriend in the 12th grade at her school who impregnated her five months into their relationship.
“I am really worried because he has since quit school and I cannot contact him. I have around VND100,000 (US$4.8) to my name. I don’t know if it is enough to pay for an abortion. I don’t know where to solve this,” she said.
Psychologist Nguyen Minh Quyen of the HCMC Counselling Center for Psychology, Love, Marriage and Family, said puberty prompts young people to become interested in love at a time when they lack the knowledge necessary to protect thsmelves.
“During puberty, hormone production has a significant effect on teens, making them attracted to one other,” he told Thanh Nien News.
“However, many aren't prepared for this change because they lack information about safe sex and reproductive health as well as for starting a family.”
A 12th grader at Ho Chi Minh City’s Marie Curie High School said he recently visited his girlfriend’s hometown and they had sex.
“She's been pregnant for four months. I don’t know if I love her seriously. I don’t really want to marry her,” he said.
More action needed
Director Duong Quoc Trong of the General Department of Population and Family Planning, said the 2014 World Population Day (July 11) offered Vietnam a good chance to review its investments in healthcare, education and employment for young people in the wake of rising teen abortions, he said.
“Young people represent the largest population group in Vietnam but they lack sufficient access to healthcare services, especially maternity health services,” he told Thanh Nien News.
“Underage marriages and incestuous marriages remain common.”
Meanwhile, there are still problems with education and employment for the youth, he said.
According to Trong, healthcare is the most important issue for young people, especially for those living in rural areas and new urban migrants.
Dr Nguyen Ngoc Thong, director of the HCMC Reproductive Health Center, said there should be efforts from different sides to tackle abortion among young people that include young people themselves.
“Many of them are aware that having sex lead to pregnancy but most believe they can abort it and everything will be ok again.”