Lying on a bed of the Municipal Referral Hospital of Phnom Penh Capital city on the second floor, a teenage girl says with sadness that she is pregnant and about to have an abortion.
The 19-year old student from Takeo province had sex with her 20-year old boyfriend and fell pregnant 4 months ago. Now he does not speak to her.
“I was embarrassed. I have to get an abortion because my boyfriend does not talk to me. I regret what I have done,” she said.
Her mother, Vanny, 52, blames herself. “I always reminded her not to do anything bad. I thought she would follow me, but the opposite has happened. Everything has been lost.”
Having an abortion in a safe centre, Vanny’s daughter is one of the lucky ones. Too afraid to tell their families, many young girls in the Kingdom choose to get an abortion at an unlicensed private clinic or even try to abort the baby themselves.
The percentage of girls aged 14 or 15 who have had an abortion more than doubled from 2.3 per cent in 2005 to 4.7 per cent in 2010, according to the Cambodian Demographic Survey. Experts believe the true figure could be higher.
Srey Mao, 32, who is a money changer and mobile card seller, has had more than 10 abortions since she was 17 – always an unlicensed private clinic near Spark Entertainment Club in Phnom Penh. The clinic is run by a Vietnamese midwife, who has been performing the $30 procedures for more than 20 years.
“She does the abortions very quickly. It takes only 5 to 15 minutes. I don’t know how safe it is, but I didn’t have any serious problems. I just got a headache, eye-infection, and backache after the procedure,” she said.
Most of the girls who go to the clinic are between 16 and 20, she added.
But women who have unsafe abortions at a young age are at risk of becoming infertile, getting a perforated uterus, septicemia and hemorrhage, according to Dr. Var Chivorn, associate executive director of the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodian (RHAC).
Chivorn says that women should not buy medicine to abort their babies without getting comprehensive information about when they should use it and how often, so that it is effective. RHAC clinics provide post-abortion care services for women who have problems after they get an abortion.
“Many people do not know that abortion in Cambodia is legal, including some health staff, so that many people choose to perform abortion in a place which is not safe,” he said.
Abortion was legalized in Cambodia in 1997, but the procedure can only legally be performed in a hospital, health centre, clinic or maternity ward where staff have been trained and recognized by the Ministry of Health.
The latest stage a woman can have an abortion is in the 12th week of pregnancy, unless there are special circumstances. If she is younger than 18, she must have permission from her parents or guardian.
According to a study of unmarried men between the ages of 15 and 24, half said they had sex before they were 23. A total of 71 per cent used a condom, however, to prevent against pregnancy and STIs like HIV/AIDs. MERGAN R surveyed 665 unmarried men in 2006 to get the data.
Back at the Municipal Referral Hospital in Phnom Penh, Dr. Sorn Channa, the director of the women’s department, says she believes that there needs to be more education about abortion and safe sex.
“So far, the abortion rate has not decreased, so we are trying to boost advertising and understanding about abortion law and safe abortion services among Cambodian citizens as well as health staff,” she said.
Besides that, the Ministry of Health and its partners should raise awareness about the issues and the government should add sex education to the curriculum, she added.
“Young youths must protect themselves while they are dating. If they are pregnant, they should come to seek safe abortion at the health center, NGOs and state hospital,” Channa said.