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Consultations from young women in Japan on unwanted pregnancies rising amid pandemic

Embryo Hokkaido staff are consulted via a phone call in this photo provided by the group.

HAKODATE, Hokkaido -- More and more young women are coming forward for consultations concerning unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other issues amid the pandemic, as people stay at home longer.

    To prevent such pregnant women from becoming isolated, support groups and medical institutions are offering consultations and first examinations free of charge.

    Embryo Hokkaido, a volunteer group supporting pregnant women in Sapporo's Higashi Ward, received a call from a distressed young woman in late January.

    "I was dating for money and got pregnant," she divulged. The woman, apparently between the age of 10 and 19, was in a panic due to the unexpected pregnancy, and contacted the group's consultation desk as she had no one else to turn to.

    "I don't know who the father is, but I want to have the baby," said the woman after consulting the group's staff multiple times via phone calls and emails.

    Kunie Tsutsumi, the 81-year-old representative of the group, reflected, "As young as she is, I think she realized the importance of a new life." The woman persuaded her parents and gave birth in August, and is apparently raising her child with government support.

    The group offers consultation services every Friday. Up until 2019, they received less than 10 consultation requests about unwanted pregnancies per year, but last year there were 20, and another six had arrived as of August this year. Most people who consult the group are aged between 10 and 29. In most cases, factors including sexual abuse, financial reasons, school closures and having to refrain from going out played a part in unwanted pregnancies

    In May, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced the results of a survey on the effects of pandemic-derived self-restraint on pregnancy. A total of 952 consultation requests from those under the age of 18 came to organizations such as Japan Crisis Pregnancy Hotline Network about unexpected pregnancies and unwanted sex between March and September 2020. This was about 30 more than the number recorded during the same period the previous year.

    In particular, year-on-year figures were higher for the months from March to June 2020, when many schools remained closed across Japan and the first state of emergency was declared.

    The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology says students are not taught about sex or contraception as part of sex education at junior high school, and the official curriculum "only deals with fertilization and pregnancy, not the course of pregnancy."

    Tsutsumi pointed out, "The increasing number of consultations regarding unwanted pregnancies amid the coronavirus pandemic once again highlights the need for sex education that teaches people about the importance of life."

    Meanwhile, efforts to prevent pregnant women from becoming isolated are underway nationwide. There are many cases in which junior and senior high schoolers are unable to consult with others or visit clinics when they become pregnant.

    The group "Anshin Haha to Ko no Sanfujinka Renraku Kyogikai" (safe mother and child obstetrics and gynecology liaison council), made up of 20 obstetric institutions and headquartered in Saitama Prefecture, has launched a service offering anonymous consultation via phone, emails and face-to-face at hospitals, even if the individual doesn't have an insurance card, since last December. If it turns out they are pregnant, the group checks whether they want to give birth, and in cases where it's deemed difficult for the mother to raise the baby, support for finding foster parents and other assistance is given.

    Sapporo Maternity Women's Hospital in the city's Kita Ward, which provides consultation services, has received six cases so far. Chairperson Hiromasa Kogo, 49, commented, "There haven't been many consultations yet, but it's a service that can be used by children on their own, and I'd like to tell them that we're glad they consulted us. I don't want them (those troubled by their pregnancies) to take it all on themselves."

    (Japanese original by Kohei Shinkai, Hokkaido News Department Hakodate)

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