Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Malaysia - Government adopts cafe approach to check teen pregnancies, premarital sex

KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 — While initiatives implemented by the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) to check immoral behaviour among young Malaysians have been successful to a certain extent, their sexual behaviour and lack of knowledge on matters related to reproductive health and sexuality continue to be worrying.

LPPKN Chairman Datuk Mariam Mas Yacob said studies carried out previously by various government agencies have revealed that social problems like premarital sex, rape, pregnancy out of wedlock, baby dumping, sexually-transmitted diseases and sexual abuse among adolescents and teenagers were on the rise.

She said in view of this, and having recognised that lack of sufficient knowledge on sexuality and reproduction was causing teenagers to go astray, LPPKN developed an intervention programme in 2006 that focused on the provision of youth-friendly health services through a network of kafe@TEEN centres.

These centres provide, among others, counselling services and advice on reproductive health, as well as health and social education, to adolescents and youths to enable them to make responsible choices on matters related to their sexuality.

According to statistics revealed by Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya last September, about 18,000 teenage pregnancies were recorded in 2014.

As for baby dumping or abandonment, an average of 90 cases was reported yearly between 2008 and 2013.

Health Ministry statistics on students diagnosed with HIV and AIDS between 2008 and 2012 reflected an upward trend — in 2008, 28 were infected with HIV while seven had contracted AIDS, and by 2012, the numbers had increased sharply to 170 HIV and 16 AIDS cases involving students.

While there are no statistics to quantify the effectiveness of the kafe@TEEN initiative in checking social ills among young people in Malaysia over the last decade, Mariam Mas nevertheless contended that it remained the best platform for youths aged between 13 and 24 to obtain information and knowledge on reproductive health and sexuality.

“It’s hard for them to get the information they want from their families because talking about sex or sexuality is taboo. Then there are those parents who are too busy with their work or business to even have the time to talk to their children about these matters.

“Our kafe@TEEN centres are, therefore, ideal places for youngsters to discuss such sensitive issues comfortably and get more information from health personnel,” she told Bernama.

The kafe@TEEN programme kicked off in 2006 with the establishment of two centres, one situated at the LPPKN headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Butterworth, Penang.

There are currently 15 centres, located in Kedah, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak. Seven of these centres are located at the Urban Transformation Centres (UTC) in Pudu and Keramat in Kuala Lumpur; and one each in Melaka, Kuantan, Alor Setar, Johor Bahru and Kota Kinabalu.

Two more kafe@TEEN centres are set to open soon in Tawau, Sabah and Putrajaya. Mariam Mas said the youth-friendly kafe@TEEN concept has made it easier for youths to seek medical help, counselling services, information on reproductive health and even nutritional advice from medical officers, LPPKN nurses and counsellors, nutritional experts, information officers and educators.

The centres also come complete with a mini library and Internet services.

 “Our main objective is to help mould our youths into healthy, resilient and responsible people who possess good moral values and are able to cope well with the challenges they may face in their lives,” said Mariam Mas.

She said by having access to accurate and vital information on matters like sexuality and reproductive health via the kafe@TEEN centres, adolescents and teenagers would find themselves in a better position to make more informed choices and stay away from premarital sex and other social problems.

“It also reduces the risk of them suffering from an identity crisis or having unnatural sexual orientations like lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT),” she said.

Mariam Mas said the kafe@TEEN centres also provide educational and skill-building programmes to enable youths to pick up personal development skills and also participate in recreational activities.

“The centres enable the youngsters to make new friends, which indirectly improves their social interaction skills. Their self-confidence also improves when they start communicating with their newly acquainted friends,” she said.

According to Mariam Mas, LPPKN also conducted kafe@TEEN outreach programmes at schools and has succeeded in reaching out to 476,193 students between 2006 and February 2016.

She said over the same period, some 6,064 youths had obtained social counselling services at the various kafe@TEEN centres, while another 20,353 had received reproductive health services.

A total of 317,657 youths had taken part in the educational and skill-building programmes conducted by the centres.

Describing youths as an important asset to the nation’s development agenda, Mariam Mas said kafe@TEEN also encouraged them to become the agents of change by getting involved in volunteer activities.

She said kafe@TEEN had in 2014 and 2015 collaborated with 1Malaysia For Youth or iM4U — Malaysia’s youth volunteerism platform to nurture and inculcate volunteerism into the hearts of the youth — to conduct workshops for iM4U volunteers to equip them with knowledge and skills related to reproductive health and social behaviour.

“These workshops will equip kafe@TEEN and iM4U volunteers with the relevant knowledge to act as peer counsellors, as well as facilitators of our programmes,” she added.

Meanwhile, youths who wish to use the kafe@TEEN facilities and services and participate in their programmes must first register themselves as members at the kafe@TEEN centre located closest to them.

To qualify as a member, they must be single and aged between 13 and 24. Registration is free. The kafe@TEEN centre at the LPPKN headquarters is open from Monday to Friday, between 8am and 5pm.

The kafe@TEEN centres located at the various UTCs are open seven days a week, from 8.30am to 10.30pm.

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