SINGAPORE: 'No to sex' Malay ad connects with youth

Malay-Muslim community's television ad promoting abstinence proves successful

Straits Times
Friday, December 8, 2006

By Zakir Hussain

Teenager Nur Fatimah Malik was so struck by a Malay TV ad that urged youth to say "no" to sex, she wanted to be part of the action.

"So when I was asked to visit schools and act in a skit to spread the message, I could not say 'no.' I know what some of my peers have been through," said the 18-year-old student.

The ad is part of a Malay-Muslim community campaign that began in July. Yesterday, results of a survey show that nine out of 10 community members who were aware of it found it relevant.

There were also five closed-door discussions with 50 parents, teens and other Muslims.

Following the feedback, Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said the campaign will be tweaked for a sharper focus.

Programmes will be introduced to reach out more to sexually active teens, school dropouts and fathers, who are seen to be less involved in parenting.

Also, more counsellors and mentors will be trained to coax Malay teens to abstain from sex.

Dr Yaacob announced these moves at a press conference to disclose the results of the survey done in September.

It polled about 1,000 Malay-Muslims, including teens and parents.

The campaign was launched because statistics on teen pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases show proportionally more Malay teens are affected.

Roadshows and radio talk shows are among the avenues used to encourage parents to talk to their children about sex more openly.

Four drop-in centres have also been set up this year for youth who need advice on any problems.

Ms Nur Fatimah agrees that more young mentors are needed because they can relate better with troubled teens.

"In the skit, I was a girl trying to refuse her boyfriend's advances. When I spoke to some of the girls in the audience afterwards, I realised how familiar that experience was to some of them," she said.

As for reaching out to teens who have sex, Dr Yaacob noted that they approach community organisations such as Mendaki to discuss their problems.

"They realise there are people who are willing to talk about them and not cast them aside," he said.

In the survey, many youth said that, following the campaign, they have become more aware of teen pregnancies, the consequences of premarital sex and sexually transmitted diseases.

Veteran counsellor Hamidah Bahashwan, who supervises youth workers at the four drop-in centres, said it is most effective when youth talk to their peers about what troubles them.