INTERVIEW: Supporting comprehensive sexuality education in Thailand
Unwanted teenage pregnancies are more common in the poorer parts of the north of the country than elsewhere due largely to access to information and services and there is anecdotal evidence that, in some schools, they increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Palang Jo, or youth’s power, is an NGO based in Phrae in northern Thailand whose objective is to empower and increase the knowledge of young people and ensure they have all the information they need to navigate the journey from adolescence to adulthood.
Ahead of World Population Day, marked annually on 11 July, UN News met students and educators at the Muang Phrae School and asked them about the value of the training.
Panisa Aryanant: I am the director of Palang Jo, an organization which works in partnership with UNFPA and Reckitt. Our aim is to provide support schools and students with comprehensive sexuality education information and training for pre-teens and teenagers. Today, we are at a school where many students come from rural areas. Often they do not have enough access to information about sexual and reproductive health.
Parn: I first participated in a training session like this four years ago. I attended regular sessions for two years and for the last two years I have been a peer educator in my school, so I’m directly involved in leading the training. Today, we were working with younger students between the ages of 12 and 14 and talked to them about the changes to their bodies during puberty that will or are already happening.
Guy: I’m 17 years old and one of the older peer educators. We also talked a lot about family planning methods and demonstrated the use of condoms using a model. There was a lot of laughter, so the young students were really enjoying the session. I was working with the boys, and they were very interested in the issue of puberty and their changing bodies, including the growth of pubic hair and the fact that they are sweating more.
Panisa Aryanant: Unintended teenage pregnancy remains a challenge in Thailand, and we chose this school because during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of pregnancies increased from one or two a year, to four. This is a big increase, which we put down to students being out of school and spending more time together. Over the past three years working in this school, we have managed to reduce these unintended pregnancies to zero, so we are making a significant impact.
Parn: Families sometimes don’t talk about sex with young people, so it is important to pass on this knowledge in a fun environment. The younger students have learned about how to use a condom and discussed the importance of birth control. I think it is good that the next generation has this knowledge.
Pang: I am twelve years old, and today, I definitely learned some new skills which can be useful in my daily life. The most important thing was the birth control pill and the emergency pill and what it means to be sexually abused. If I was ever in that position, I would know how to protect myself. There was quite a bit of teasing today, and the boys were a lot louder, but we all know each other so it was okay.
Panisa Aryanant: Schools offer sex education in Thailand, but it is often focused on male and female biology. The aim of this group is for students to be familiar with all aspects of sexual and reproductive health and to have all the information they need and to be able to access services, if necessary. We help the students to understand inappropriate behaviour, including harassment and abuse.
Phrae is my hometown so my motivation is to improve the quality of life of people here, especially young people. I want to help and support these children through adolescence into adulthood.