Ignorance, conservatism and male power need to be addressed through sex education, says report on teenage pregnancy in Tonga

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo ha fakamatala faka-Tonga

Tongan girls are becoming pregnant due to ignorance about contraception, male partner’s refusal to wear condoms and conservative social attitudes, according to a new report.

• The report, Unplanned Adolescent Pregnancy in the Pacific: Tonga, said cultural, religious and social conventions in Tonga made it hard for women to talk about the issues.

The report, Unplanned Adolescent Pregnancy in the Pacific:  Tonga, said rates of unplanned adolescent pregnancy were high in many Pacific Islands countries.

The report said young women needed proper sex education, but said the lack of balance in power between girls and often older men needed to be addressed.

The report said that researchers found that cultural, religious and social conventions in Tonga made it hard for both younger and older women to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health, contraception and abortion.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales interviewed girls aged between 16-19 who had become pregnant about their experiences as well as older women who were encouraged to talk about their knowledge of local practices.

The university team interviewed 26 people in Tongatapu, Vava’u and Ha’apai.


All the young participants were either still in high school or had recently graduated when they found out they were pregnant.

Fear of telling their parents was widespread.

The report said poor availability of contraception, lack of information and lack of control over their own bodies could lead to unplanned adolescent pregnancies.

Much of the writing on teenage pregnancy came from a western viewpoint and focused on clinical services to reduce adolescent fertility.

However, it had been argued that the health and wellbeing of adolescent mothers in the Pacific would be better served by attention to cultural and social features of the society.

Knowledge about contraception and sexual and reproductive health was low among the young women interviewed.

“Most of them knew they could become pregnant from having unprotected sex, but for some reason did not think they would become pregnant when they were having unprotected sex with the father of their child,” the report said.


Sources of reliable information about sexual and reproductive health and contraception were limited. Many participants said the only things they knew were what they had seen on Facebook, on YouTube and in movies.

Some of the young participants were aware of contraceptives and where they could get them, but were put off by the problem of trying to keep it private.

Of the young participants who did mention the use of contraception (almost exclusively condoms), it was used erratically at the sole discretion of their male partner.

Having an abortion was one of the first thoughts for many of the participants. Most girls had heard that there were ways to abort a pregnancy, but few were sure of exactly what to do.

Many of the teenage mothers wanted to get back to school, complete their education and get a job or move on to higher education. This also appeared to be factor for a number of parents of the pregnant teenagers.

This seems to played a part in arrangements to have a child adopted by a close relative.


The report said young women needed to be supported with proper sex education. It suggested that this could be effective if it was offered to girls and older women together.

“Sexual and reproductive health and contraceptive education for young girls may be more acceptable if it is delivered in a forum that enables the older women to take some ownership of the process,” the report said.

“The hosting of small mother-and-daughter group meetings or workshops may improve, and begin to normalise, dialogue between mothers and their daughters on matters of sex, gender and relationships.”

However, the report said the issue of contraceptive use needed to be approached from several angles, including gender equality.. The fact that the decision to use contraception was usually the man’s represented an unfair imbalance in the power between the people involved.


Fokotu’u ‘e ha lipooti hili ha fakatotolo fakaako ‘i Tonga kuo taimi ke vakai’i e lao mo e tukufakaholo ‘a e fonua’ hangē ko e tapu ‘o e fakatōtama’ mo e tapu ke talanoa’i e ngaahi me’a fakaepo’uli ‘a e ongo me’amali’ ke mahino ki he fānau fefine’. Ko e taha ‘eni ia e ngaahi tapu tuku fakaholo’. Ka kuo lahi e taonakita ‘a e fānau fefine’ mo e  feinga ‘i he ngaahi founga fakalilifu kehekehe ke fakatooki ‘a e pēpee’ tu’unga he ilifia he feitama’. Ni’ihi puna mei he feitu’u mā’olunga pea ni’ihi inu ha me’a pe ‘oku ala ke ne fakatooki ‘a e pepee’ hange ko e piliu’. Pea ‘ikai foki mahino lelei pe faingamalie ke ngāue’aki ‘a e ngaahi me’a malu’i kapau te nau ‘unoho mo ha tangata.

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