Hong Hoa was just 17 when she found out she was pregnant, and just thinking about her future left her sleepless and panic-stricken.
Growing up in a family of two girls in a town in Kon Tum province, and with both parents being government employees, she only needed to study without having to worry about anything else in life. “When I found out I was pregnant, everything changed,” recalls the now 26-year-old.
Her boyfriend was three years older but equally naive. Neither of them dared tell anyone.
By the fourth month, her family knew her pregnancy when she couldn’t hide it anymore. Then, the girl dropped out of school in 11th grade.
When her friends were in grade 12, she had to deliver and take care of her child.
She returned to school a year later. In the morning, instead of waking up close to school time like most children, she would wake up at 5 a.m., change diapers, make milk for her son, ask her mother-in-law to babysit him, and leave for school.
At noon the young mother would take time to breastfeed her baby before going back to school. If her child became sick, she would stay up all night to look after him.
Studying, taking care of a child, and being frustrated with her irresponsible husband, she quickly became exhausted and found herself at a dead-end.
Teenage sex leading to pregnancy like Hoa’s is a burning social issue in Vietnam.
Hoa, 26, is now more mature about relationships. Photo courtesy of Hoa
A survey in 2021 by the United Nations Children’s Fund found that 0.2% of boys had sex before the age of 15. This rate was higher in girls at about 0.9%. Some 8.9% of adolescents had sex with a partner 10 years older than them.
According to a study done by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, the rate of children having sex for the first time before the age of 14 doubled from 1.45% in 2013 to 3.51% in 2019.
Another study by Population Services International estimated that over 10% of unmarried Vietnamese women (aged 15-24) had at least one unwanted pregnancy.
Nguyen Le Thuy, an education expert from the Center for Youth Skills Development says the leading cause of teenage pregnancy is the lack of knowledge about sex education and emotional management skills.
Meanwhile, children these days have easy access to age-inappropriate movies, pictures and stories on the Internet, she points out.
“Sex education is not paid much attention in schools. Early puberty is also a cause of early love, early sex and teenage pregnancy.”
Teenage mothers easily suffer from psychological trauma because of their lack of physical and mothering skills and experience in facing difficulties.
Thuy says: “Teenage moms find it difficult to build social relationships and lose faith in life because of low self-esteem and social prejudice. They see difficulties everywhere they look, the future road is no longer as open as before.”
After the news that she was pregnant spread, Hong Hoa thought her friends, teachers and other people around her looked at her differently.
“I regretted making my parents sad and embarrassed by the rumors and whispers behind my back. I just hung around at home, not daring to go anywhere.”
Experts also point to lack of life experience as one of the biggest difficulties for teenaged mothers.
Thu An, 23, of Son La does not know whether to laugh or cry when thinking about the day her husband’s family asked for her hand in marriage.
When she was just 15 her mother told her to drop out of school and get married because her family could not support her any more.
Now both An and her husband work in the fields but cannot earn enough to feed themselves and their two children.
In her hometown, child marriages are still common. In 2021, out of a total of 8,127 marriages, some 1,020 were below marriage age.
“There was a 12-year-old who gave birth to a child, and the child died just a few months later,” An says.
Last month a 12-year-old girl gave birth to a baby in northern Phu Tho Province. Local officials say the girl’s family lives in difficult circumstances, and her parents work far away from home and so have little time to take care of their children.
When the girl’s mother saw her belly was abnormally large, she took her to a doctor and found out she was going to have a grandchild.
“She is only 12 years old, but has to learn to hold and breastfeed the baby,” she says.
Thuy says not only teenage mothers, but also their children face consequences, which affect the future.
“Many children are born unhealthy because their mothers are not fully developed physically. Even if they are healthy, the children still face a disadvantage because of the inadequate attention they get from a teenage mother or the lack of a father.”
Hong Hoa has now graduated from university, has a steady job and helps her ex-husband’s family take care of her child.
After the mistakes of her past, she does not want to rush to get married.
“I advise teenagers to listen to their parents, study and work to ensure a bright future and not to be ignorant and naive like me.”
* Characters’ names are changed.
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