The Life Experiences of Unmarried Teenage Mothers in Thailand

Sa-ngiamsak, Piyanart (2016). The Life Experiences of Unmarried Teenage Mothers in Thailand PhD Thesis, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.449

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Author Sa-ngiamsak, Piyanart
Thesis Title The Life Experiences of Unmarried Teenage Mothers in Thailand
School, Centre or Institute School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.449
Publication date 2016-07-18
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Cheryl Tilse
Philip Gillingham
Total pages 225
Total colour pages -
Total black and white pages 225
Language eng
Subjects 1607 Social Work
1605 Policy and Administration
Abstract/Summary The World Health Organization estimates that about 16 million women aged 15-19 years old give birth each year, which constitutes 11% of all births worldwide (World Health Organization, 2015). Many of these pregnancies are not merely unplanned but also unwanted and major concerns arise for the well-being of teenage mothers, particularly those who are unmarried and poor. In Thailand, as the proportion of teenage mothers has increased from 12.9% (95,879) in 2003 to 16.8% (125,371) in 2013 (Department of Reproductive Health, 2013), teenage pregnancy has become a major social, policy and practice concern. The acceptance of and support for unmarried teenage mothers varies according to social and cultural contexts. Traditional Thai culture and norms regarding a woman’s sexual behaviour, which include the preservation of virginity until marriage, are clearly at odds with giving birth outside marriage. However, attitudes toward sexual activity in Thailand are changing in response to the processes of modernisation and globalisation, leading to conflict between traditional and more modern values. This conflict presents a new level of complexity to the lives of unmarried teenage mothers but has yet to affect the limited welfare support that is available to them. To date, little is known about their experiences, especially those who live in poor and rural areas. This research aims to develop a better understanding of the experiences of Thai teenage mothers from these areas in order to inform the development of social policy and practice to meet their needs. The research comprised in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of 17 unmarried Thai teenage mothers from a rural area of Thailand. The sampling aimed to include what might be considered a highly vulnerable group of young women: young mothers who were aged 18 years or less when their child was born, unmarried and not being supported by the father of the child. Participants were recruited from those who attended services provided by four government agencies in Buriram province, North-eastern Thailand. This province has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and is one of the poorest regions in Thailand. Participants were interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide in the language and dialect of their choice. Analysis of the interview data identified common and diverse themes in their experiences and drew attention to how their experiences were shaped by their social and cultural context. In order to understand the interaction between social context and the life experiences of unmarried teenage mothers, this study is framed by the Ecological Systems Theory of Bronfenbrenner (1979). The multiple layers of the participants’ environment and the interactions between them are explored to enhance understanding of their life experiences and to articulate the opportunities and constraints in developing policy and practice for this group. The key findings from this study illustrate the complexity of current Thai society which creates contradictions and tensions in the lives of teenage mothers, at almost every level of their environment. Poverty and inequality played a key role in their lives. Poverty creates high expectations that young women work hard (academically and/or for financial reward) in order to improve their circumstances and those of their families. When young women become pregnant, such expectations cannot be met. Poverty also limits options in life, for example, in accessing a safe abortion, remaining or returning to education and gaining employment. In contradiction to studies conducted in other countries (Arai, 2009; Imamura et al., 2007; Mawer, 1999; L. SmithBattle, 2000; Social Exclusion Unit, 1999), teenage pregnancy and motherhood was not found to be the outcome of low expectations or an attempt to escape a desolate past. Most participants in this study who fell pregnant during their education reported doing well at school, but getting pregnant at an early age closed down many opportunities in life for them. Insufficient welfare support made life even more difficult and uncertain. Participants in this research were found to be at the intersection between traditional Thai values and more modern values. Traditional values underpinned some policy and service responses, but their influence was far less significant at the level of family and community. Tension occurred when family members found out about the pregnancy; however, the major concerns were about financial burden and an uncertain future for teenage mothers and their children rather than the cultural violation of having a baby before marriage. The closing down of options to contribute to the financial well-being of their family was of greater concern than social stigma. A lack of access to social services was a major problem for teenage mothers in this research. As they faced financial distress without welfare support, the future for participants and their children became unpredictable and potentially perilous. Although the Thai government has expressed concern about increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies and mothers, key policy and practice initiatives have not been fully implemented because of limited public support for policies and services that challenge traditional values. Scholars in the developed world may question whether teenage motherhood is a social problem. However, from the findings of this research, which provides an enhanced understanding of the experiences of teenage mothers in Thailand, it is clear that there are many reasons to be concerned about this group of young women. This thesis provides insights into the contradictions and tensions between the traditional values that permeate policy and service systems and the realities of modern Thailand where a well-developed sex industry exerts a strong force in offering poor young women a possible alternative to poverty.
Keyword teenage mother
teenage pregnancy
south east asia

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Created: Wed, 13 Jul 2016, 18:50:59 EST by Piyanart Sa-ngiamsak on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)