Today, mothers around the world are being honored for the pains and labors of child rearing, but the sacrifices made by teenage mothers are far from being celebrated. Taiwan has made notable advances in sex education and pregnancy prevention in the last five years, yet prejudice against an unwed mother often leaves her permanently ostracized from family and friends.
"Yiwen" was 17 years old when she discovered she was pregnant. Terrified of the reaction her parents would have, she waited six months before telling them. At first she was kicked out, then, on the condition that she let her aunt raise the baby as her own, Yiwen was allowed to return home.
That was nearly 40 years ago. Now she is 53 years old and married with a family of three. To this day, her first daughter does not know that Yiwen is her real mother.
"It was a long time ago, and I believe it was the best situation for my baby, my family and myself. But I am surprised that after all these years, things haven't really changed," she replied when told about a girl, who on the recommendation of her parents, made the same decision to conceal the real mother's identity.
FACING THE FACTS
According to statistics from the Ministry of the Interior, an average of 15,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year in Taiwan. An estimated 60 percent decide to keep their babies, while 40 percent opt for adoption. In 2003, 8,775 teenagers became mothers, 89 percent of whom were unwed.
"A young mother needs a solid financial and emotional support system, but the fact is most of these girls have no money, no education and are punished by their families who are ashamed to have an unwed, pregnant daughter," said Chi Hui-jung (
Government funding and policies aimed at pregnancy prevention are beneficial, Chi added, but should not be at the expense of financial assistance, housing and post-partum education for girls who decide to have babies.
"Prevention [education] is important, but it's equally important to accept the reality that kids are having sex and some of them are going to get pregnant."
The central government began to seriously address the issue of unplanned parenthood seven years ago with the establishment of the Children's Bureau under the Ministry of the Interior. Since then, the bureau has worked with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to introduce sex-education campaigns in high schools and has set up hotlines and counseling services for girls who get pregnant.
Last year the bureau opened 13 call centers and started providing adoption assistance to young women in Taiwan. This year it plans to work with local governments to create job-training programs and home-study options for single mothers, in addition to evaluating those services already in operation.
"Things have only begun, so it's necessary to assess the situation to see which areas need improvement before we launch new programs. Eventually we hope to build a solid support network that helps those girls in need," said Children's Bureau chief Huang Bi-hsia (黃碧霞).
A handful of charity organizations have long been providing support to unwed mothers in Taiwan. There are currently seven halfway houses operating nationwide in addition to shelters that are strictly for women who want to put their child up for adoption.