Naka is a Shan girl, traveling to Thailand to follow her dream, like the others from her village. She started with a job in a small karaoke bar in Mae Sai. Soon she met a young Thai man and ended up living together as husband and wife. But when Naka became pregnant, he just left… Every night, Naka leaves “Term”, her little boy, at the child care shelter, PEEW’s sexual health network in Mae Sai. That is how Naka gets to know us.

 

UNFPA Thailand Country Office presses priority on youth leadership in demanding their sexual and reproductive health and rights to be protected and their accessibility to such services with special focus on the problem of teenage pregnancy. In 2014, UNFPA has awarded the grants to 15 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).

The purpose of these grants is for capacity development activities that will enable the CSOs to function as the supporter of future youth-led initiatives on the prevention of teenage pregnancy and/or the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people. This initiative will help UNFPA in achieving its Expected Country Programme Output 2 “Enhanced policies and mechanisms to increase the utilization of sexual and reproductive health and HIV services by young people and the most vulnerable populations.”

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maternal Hands

by Nun Phupoket

Project Education for Ethnic Women (PEEW)

 

“Term…come eat your food,” said Naka, clenching some rice to feed her naughty baby with her little hands, the very same pair she used last night to mix liquor for customers and wash dishes at a karaoke bar until dawn. No matter how tired she was, Naka’s tiny hands are still doing their duty in raising the little boy day after day.

Naka is a Shan girl, traveling to Thailand to follow her dream, like the others from her village. She started with a job in a small karaoke bar in Mae Sai. Soon she met a young Thai man and ended up living together as husband and wife. But when Naka became pregnant, he just left… Every night, Naka leaves “Term”, her little boy, at the child care shelter, PEEW’s sexual health network in Mae Sai. That is how Naka gets to know us.

Naka serves diners and drinkers until almost dawn then returns to raise her child during the day. Sometimes she goes out to clean houses to earn an extra saving to raise the little boy. We may not support her financially as we are not a social welfare organization but we equip her with intellectual weapons, both Thai language and life skills. Naka has a basic literacy; she can take customer orders, open a bank account, and contact the hospital and state agencies by herself. We firmly believe that human development is more sustainable than financial support. And eventually, Naka will be strong enough to take her child go through heavy obstacles of life.

Naka’s story may sound like the many stories of teenage mothers who struggle with pressures and finally defeat them. But her life is not that simple. As Term’s father is Thai, the boy is supposed to have the right to the nationality of his father. Yet, whatever the reason, the father did not show up to register the birth. Naka brought a copy of her husband’s ID card and house registration, the only document she has, together with the village headman’s signature, to register the boy’s birth at the District Office again and again. But she was rejected each time for Mae Sai border is the vulnerable area for false claims to Thailand citizenship. So, Naka, the child care shelter and PEEW were trying to convince the father to certify Term his son with only hope that a child should grow up to have the right to living the way he deserves. The father agreed finally.

Working with teenage mothers in the border areas where ethnic diversity is a major concern like in Mae Sai District is considered especially challenging for us and other advocates in the field. This is because many teen moms will require not only physical and mental care but also personal legal status, which will affect their children. Although Term is fortunate to have his father’s citizenship, there are still many Thai children who are not entitled to citizenship due to birth registration process difficulties, causing them to become a stateless person in the end.

Another challenge that the border sexual health advocates are facing is the concern that children with personal legal status issue do not have access to various rights even though the government has a policy to provide care for all children residing in Thailand, particularly the right to healthcare and education. This problem stems from the fact that some state agencies have not implemented the policies earnestly. There is also a series of mindset that people with personal legal status issue is not “one of us” so it is not necessary to give them a good care. In fact, these people with personal legal status are actually Thai citizens who are under the nationality verification process. Advocates working like us shall then put more efforts to communicate with the public sector and the communities that providing the basic right to healthcare and education will make these children grow up with a better quality of life and become a workforce for further development of the country.

Only the Project Education for Ethnic Women may not be able to address all of these issues alone. We do have our partnership in this mechanism working on sexual health in Mae Sai who lends their efforts to work together. Each of us plays the role according to our expertise to support and help teenage mothers in handling with all physical, mental and personal legal status problems. This includes: Sub-district Administrative Organization that helps create the community that is friendly to teenage mothers; schools that allow them to continue their study while pregnant; and, health facilities that provide health care and support to teenage mothers. We strongly believe that the mechanism-based work to empower teenage mothers to have a secured life, coupled with the promotion of knowledge and skills to prevent unintended pregnancy among the youth and the community, can actually reduce the unintended pregnancy problem. More importantly, the teenage mothers and their children could have a better quality of life in a friendly society and live their satisfactory lives happily.

… if the mother’s two hands are for holding her baby, our hands will be for paving the way for her to reach a brighter day very shortly.

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