Doctors said early curiosity about sex combined with widespread ignorance about reproductive health and birth control has contributed to an “alarming” rate of around 700,000 abortions in the country a year.

The rate is the third highest worldwide, according to the Ministry of Health.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, former director of HCMC’s leading obstetrics hospital, said the city of seven million people reports around 100,000 abortions a year--a figure roughly equivalent to the number of newborn babies, according to a story in Saigon Tiep Thi.

Around 45,000 patients give birth at Tu Du Maternity Hospital, every year, while over 30,000 seek abortions, Phuong said.

She said 5 percent of mothers in Vietnam are younger than 18 and 15 percent are under 20.

Overall, 30 percent of young mothers give birth without marrying.

Unsafe sex also leads to between 800,000 and one million cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the country a year, doctors said.

A United Nations Population Fund study found that as many as one third of Vietnamese youths, especially teenagers, do not receive any instruction in the practice of safe sex.

Psychologist Kieu Thanh Ha at the Children’s Pediatrics Hospital No.2, confirmed that further during her recent class at a school for gifted students in the city.

Her survey found more than 90 percent of the eighth graders, 13 or 14 years old, say they have romantic feelings for another person; many reported wanting to have sex with those people immediately.

“Our little students think that getting to know each other is such a waste of time, and they should just have sex to be done with,” Ha told Saigon Tiep Thi reporter. “They said that with a very normal face.”

Ha said information about sex has become widely available to younger people through popular entertainment and the internet.

Most of that information is closer to pornography than lessons in how to protect themselves.

They are almost “blind” about related issues including reproductive health, she said adding that more than 90 percent didn't know the suitable age for getting pregnant, 61 percent knew nothing about their ovulation cycles and only 50 percent knew anything about birth control.

“Families and schools are still very confused about teaching teens about sex,” she said.

Doctor Le Thi Thu Ha, a postnatal care doctor at Tu Du, said parents should not prevent children from pursuing their romantic and physical demands.

But they should direct them toward healthy sexual activity--that is, a sex life that involves one partner at a time and protection from both STDs and unexpected pregnancy.

A HCMC-based psychologist said sex is a sensitive topic, one that few parents are comfortable discussing with their children.

Some parents worry that discussing sex too early will “draw the line for the deer to run”--a Vietnamese expression that conveys a sense of foreboding about teaching someone how to do something prohibited

But the expert said that saying nothing will put children further at risk of practicing unsafe sex.

“If the deer doesn’t know where the line is, their running will prove more dangerous,” she said.

Thanh Nien News - November 21, 2014