ERDENEBURGAN, ARKHANGAI PROVINCE, MONGOLIA – Seventeen-year-old Gereli’s rosy face turns red as she considers the dramatic turn her life has taken in the past year.
“Even now I can’t believe that I have become a mother,” she says, looking down at her 6-day-old daughter.
Mongolia’s adolescent pregnancy rate, although well below the global average, was until recently among the highest in the Western Pacific region, largely due to poor sexual and reproductive health education, limited access to reproductive health care for adolescents, and reluctance. discuss sex at home. About 4,000 girls get pregnant every year, and 650 of them usually terminate their pregnancy. In Mongolia, abortion is legal up to 22 weeks, and late-term abortions between 13 and 22 weeks require medical supervision. Minors, however, need the consent of a parent or guardian to terminate their pregnancy.
In some families, pregnant girls don’t tell their parents until it’s too late. “The mother brought her daughter thinking she was overweight,” says Nomin-Erden Altangerel, senior physician at the Shim Billegh Family Health Center, “when in fact she was eight months pregnant.” Often there is no other option than to give birth when the fetus is older than five months.” Some girls do not even realize that they are pregnant until then. according to one survey, almost 20% of teenage mothers said they knew after five months. More than three-quarters said they had never used contraception.
Gerele, who requested partial anonymity for fear of stigma, said she hid her pregnancy from her parents for five months. “I sometimes talked about reproduction with my older sister, but never with my parents,” she says. “Because parents are not educated about these issues, they are not able to discuss it with their children,” said Dr. Oyun-Erden Boldukhai, dean of the Faculty of Family and Psychology at Ulaanbaatar International University. What’s more, he says, schools also routinely fail in this regard. Between 7% and 11% of the content covered in health and biology classes in public schools deals with reproductive health, which the country’s human rights commission considers “grossly inadequate”.
“We have a health subject, but they don’t exactly teach sex education,” said Enerlen Bathbatar, an 11th-grader at the public school. “Because we don’t have anyone to talk about it, sometimes we find information on the Internet.”
“I know I have to talk to my children,” says Odontuya Daramkhuu, a mother of four. “But I don’t know how to talk to them. When I was a teenager, I never talked about it with my parents or my siblings, so I worry about how my children will react, that they will misunderstand and not want to talk to their mother again.”
Others believe that their children receive sex education at school. “We don’t talk about it because we think it’s covered at school,” said Munchgerel, a mother of three who asked to remain partially anonymous for the same reason. He was surprised to learn that this was often not the case.
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi, GPJ Mongolia
“Adolescence is an important stage of growth and development, and it’s an important time to lay the foundation for health education,” said Orolzodmaa Baasankhuu, head of youth, men’s and reproductive health at the Ministry of Health in Mongolia. Currently, there are 34 clinics run by doctors, nurses and/or social workers that provide comprehensive health services for Mongolian youth across the country, he said, adding that 3.6% of all births in 2021 were to teenagers. by, which decreases by 0.3% compared to the previous year.
Although parents usually refrain from talking about sex, it is very common for them to take their daughters to the hospital to have an abortion, said Khulan Bat-Erden, head of the Orkhon chapter of the Mongolian Family Welfare Association, a non-profit organization that works in the general direction. access to sexual health care; (Teenagers accounted for 4.7% of all abortions in 2021, down 0.1% from last year, Orolzodmaa says.) Abortion as de facto contraception in the absence of sex education is a violation of girls’ rights, she says. he “Having an abortion at a young age is not only harmful from the point of view of health, but also causes great psychological fear among girls. they lose confidence in starting a family and giving birth as adults.”
Recent years have seen unprecedented scrutiny of young Mongolians’ sexual and reproductive health rights. In 2021, after students began protesting the practice, Mongolia banned so-called virginity tests in schools, although reports from the Global Press Journal indicate that these mandatory exams were only last year. Activists working to increase access to sexual health for young people also denounce the state’s gender focus. for example, educating teenage boys about safe sex can dramatically reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies. “That’s why I ask both boys and girls to attend when I run reproductive health classes in schools,” says Khulan.
“I was shy to take the course alongside the boys in my class,” said Narangu Gankhu, a ninth-grader. “But then I realized the importance of sex education.”
Online, some have taken matters into their own hands. The Waiting Room, a podcast by two Mongolian women in Germany in their late 20s and early 30s, explores topics considered too dangerous in other countries: virginity, queerness, sex. Their YouTube channel has over 125,000 subscribers and over 17 million views. “I started listening to the Waiting Room podcast in 2021,” says 15-year-old Maralmaa Ayurzana. “At first I was a little shy, I was afraid people would find out.” But the more he listened, the more he learned and unlearned. “For example, there is a belief among girls that they will not get pregnant the first time they sleep with someone, which is not true,” she says. “I am very happy that such a podcast appeared.”
Gerrely, who plans to graduate this year, wishes he had access to such information earlier. His life has changed dramatically in the last year. She wants to be a hairdresser and got certified for it last year, but for now she and her baby’s father live with her parents in their country house so the family can help raise the baby. There is no opportunity to be a hairdresser here.
“I would like schools to give lessons on reproduction and students to be aware of contraceptive methods,” she says. “Personally, I’m thinking about using birth control after two months.”