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    Feb 22, 2016

    Babies born to teens the lowest in 25 years

    THE number of teenage girls getting pregnant in the past decade has dropped massively, and it is not because fewer of them are having sex.

    Instead, social workers say it is because today's teens are just more savvy about using contraceptives.

    There were 359 babies born to girls aged 19 and under last year. This is the lowest in 25 years, going by checks of the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths published annually by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

    Last year's figures are less than half the 853 babies born to teen mums in 2005, and 12 per cent lower than in 2014.

    Health Ministry figures show that the number of youth under 20 who terminate their pregnancies also plummeted.

    There were 449 abortions performed on such girls in 2014. This is about a third of the 1,341 abortions in 2004, and 22 per cent fewer than in 2013.

    In fact, births and abortions by teenagers have fallen year on year in the past five years.

    The abortion figures for 2015 are not available yet while the birth statistics for 2015 is provisional.

    Social workers say today's wired youth pick up knowledge about contraception from their peers and online sources.

    Some girls even share birth control pills with their friends, said Lena Teo, assistant director of counselling at the Children-at-Risk Empowerment Association (Care Singapore).

    "Anecdotally, I think more teens are having sex and they are also more open about sharing with us about sexuality matters. They just got smarter about preventing pregnancy."

    Sexuality education programme in schools could have also played a part in reducing teen pregnancies, social workers said. Though the emphasis is still on abstinence and how to say no to having pre-marital sex, topics such as sexually transmitted diseases and condoms are also discussed.

    While fewer teens are getting pregnant, those who are still need support to see them through their pregnancies.

    Social workers said such girls are afraid to tell their parents, are unsure of what to do, and have no means of bringing up their child by themselves even if they wanted to.

    Their boyfriends may have left after learning about the pregnancy, or may be just as helpless as the girls.

    Said Christina Vejan, executive director of Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support, which specialises in helping teens: "Teenage pregnancy is still a taboo and teens have to deal with the shame of it."

    Social workers say many of the teens they see give birth as they find out too late in their pregnancy to abort. In Singapore, abortion is allowed only for pregnancies of up to 24 weeks. Parental consent is not needed before a teenager is allowed to have an abortion.

    Often, those who choose to give birth do so because they cannot bear to abort due to religious or personal beliefs, and have support from their families or boyfriends to raise the baby, said Jennifer Heng, director of Dayspring New Life Centre.