UNFPA-funded monograph ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health of the Adolescents and Youth in Bhutan’

NSB: Early age marriage and pregnancy, low use of contraceptive methods and spread of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents and youths are increasing in the country.

This is according to National Statistics Bureau’s (NSB) monograph ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health of the Adolescents and Youth in Bhutan’.

The study says that sexual intercourse, pregnancy and parenthood are understood as a complex phenomenon, involving social, physical, emotional and cognitive development. Young people are considered immature to deal with this phenomenon.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines an adolescent as a person in the age group of 10 to 19 years and youth between the ages of 15 to 24. Those between the ages of 10 and 24 are considered young people.

The NSB findings show that 1.40 percent of adolescent male and 5.50 percent of adolescent female in the country are married. Despite the age restriction, the practice of marrying before the age of 18 years is still common.

The study found that early marriage could lead to many unfavourable outcomes, such as unplanned pregnancy, adverse pregnancy consequences for the young girls and babies, parenting issues, and exposure to sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. The chances of prenatal deaths among adolescent mothers are 50 percent higher than mothers in the age group of 20 to 29 years.

The idea of dating has overtaken the practice of night-hunting and young people are caught in between the tradition and modernity, says the study. The adolescents and youth are becoming more open to amorous relationships, and courtship is largely based on love and romance.

Many young people now tend to live together even before getting married and decide to enter into a relationship without their parents consent, says the study. Little was known about the health aspects of sex, pregnancy and child rearing in the past. Sexual activities among the adolescents and youth and early pregnancies were common.

Adolescent pregnancies became a norm. Even when the adolescent pregnancy rate was high, families and communities did not label it a health and social problem.

More than 43 percent of the women in the age group 15 to 49 years have reported that they had their first pregnancy between the ages of 11 and 19.

Even the same-sex marriages are showing their presence, says the study, which shows new developments and represent a societal shift towards the Western ideals of love and marriage.

Managing youth sexuality is likely to emerge as a real challenge, given the negative consequences it has on the young people‘s health and social well being, says the study. Freedom of sex is not simply the right to have sexual intercourse as and when young people wish, but within their capability to handle sexual matters and their actual power to make free and informed choices.

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The study also makes mention of increasing rate of extra marital affairs and divorce cases. The number of divorced female is higher than male. With change in social and economic conditions in the country, many new youth-related challenges arises and some of these challenges results in negative social and health outcomes for the young people. Suicide cases, especially among the young women, are on the rise.

About 56 percent of Bhutan’s population constitutes young people who face unique emotional and physical health challenges related to sexuality.

The study was funded by UNFPA.

Dechen Tshomo