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INTERVIEW: Supporting comprehensive sexuality education in Thailand

Unintended teenage pregnancies are significant among poorer parts of the north of the country, where accessibility to service and information is harder to reach than elsewhere, and there is anecdotal evidence in some schools showing an increase 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 capacity of young people and ensure they are well informed on choices with necessary and required 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 is the director of Palang Jo.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson

Panisa Aryanant is the director of Palang Jo.

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 is a peer educator on sexuality issues at her school in northern Thailand.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson

Parn is a peer educator on sexuality issues at her school in northern Thailand.

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.

17-year-old Guy is a peer educator.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson

17-year-old Guy is a peer educator.

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.

12-year-old Pang says she learned new information about birth control methods.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson

12-year-old Pang says she learned new information about birth control methods.

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.

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