While waiting for my turn with some teenage girls to see an OB/GYN, I overheard many things that shocked me. At first, I just thought that the girls were there for a routine examination, as they all seemed to be high school students.
Three girls sitting next to me were friends. They talked about boys and then discussed which way was the best way to end a pregnancy. One girl said that it was better with anesthesia, while another argued that it was better without anesthesia, because you can walk out on your own after a procedure. I was shocked and scared. It meant that it wasn’t their first time having an abortion. If they were arguing about which way was better, they must have tried both ways – with and without anesthesia.
The scariest thing was their demeanor, as they didn’t seem to feel any sense of remorse about what they were preparing for. They behaved as if they were going to get a tooth removed. After one of them entered the doctor’s office, the others scrolled through Facebook and took selfies. After around a half an hour, their friend came out of a treatment room. She looked very pale, but asked her friends to go get something good to eat, and they left the hospital. As a parent with a daughter, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I became emotional, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen, and was pretty sure that the parents of the girls didn’t know about the dark experiences of their children.
I’ve heard about many similar incidents from my friends and acquaintances, about girls 15 to 18 years old having abortions. My friend’s mother runs a women’s clinic, and sometimes my friend helps her mother there. The clinic is located near many universities. My friend has observed many girls coming in for an abortion between lessons or during their lunch break. At first, I didn’t believe her, because it sounded unbelievable. But after I saw something similar with my own eyes, I thought that what my friend told me might be possible. Even though abortion is illegal in Mongolia, it is done at almost every women’s clinic. Everyone knows about it, but no one follows the law and regulations, and no one regulates these hospitals.
Doctors and psychologists have written extensively about the developmental period known as adolescence, which lasts about 10 years — from age 11 to 19 — and it’s regarded as a critical time for brain development. During these years, parents should pay special attention to their children and watch them carefully. I lived in Poland for eight years. At first, when I saw my friends talking to their mothers about boys and other personal issues, I was a little shocked.
But then I learned that there aren’t many boundaries between Polish parents and their children. They are very open-minded and talk to their children as they would to their friends. I liked it very much, and learned to talk to my mother about my personal issues and feelings as if she were my friend. Even now, I talk to my mother about everything, I don’t have any secrets kept from her, which is probably because I came of age in Poland. But unfortunately, in Mongolia, parents are not eager to discuss certain topics with their children.
They place boundaries, and are uncomfortable talking about adult issues with their children. It may be related to our culture, but we are now living in the 21st century, and many foreign cultures influence the modern Mongolian lifestyle. Youth dress in Korean styles and are influenced by social trends in Korean dramas and pop music. We should be learning about things that can benefit us and teach us about the world in certain ways.
Mongolian parents should be more open with their children and give them a better understanding of things they should definitely know about in their teenage years. They should talk about relationships and what they should and shouldn’t be doing. These conversations may exclude fathers, because talking with a daughter about sex and relationships may be difficult for some fathers, but mothers shouldn’t shy away from it. Mothers should talk to their daughters about the consequences of unprotected sex, and teach them about contraception. They should teach their daughters that unprotected sex may lead to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Children should know that an abortion is a terrible thing that may affect their future.
Unfortunately, Mongolian parents consider these topics taboo, and don’t touch upon these issues. Health classes, which provided students with basic information about the reproductive system and sex, were eliminated from the general education curriculum in 2015. Teachers and students were also reluctant to discuss these subjects, so the results of the curriculum were poor. But still, it was better than not having any health classes at all. Students attending foreign schools in Mongolia tend to be more open about these subjects, and are not shy about expressing their opinions and exchanging information on these issues.
Living and working in Ulaanbaatar may be stressful for everyone, but parents shouldn’t forget about the importance of taking care of their children. They should always find some time to spend with their children, to talk to them, to ask about their problems and to ask if they need any help. Children may not be brave and may lack the courage to start a conversation about their personal issues and life. Facilitating these conversations is a part of parental responsibility, and may be helpful in protecting many girls from unplanned pregnancy.