"Teen pregnancy is a complex problem."
Last week, I quoted data from the Commission on Population on the continuing increase of teen pregnancy cases in the country, and the worrisome numbers of pregnancies involving girls aged 10 to 14.
I also shared the story of Kristine, one of the 60 girls interviewed by my organization. She was one of those who experienced teen pregnancy and motherhood. Outside of the interviews, the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) also conducted six focus group discussions (FGD) involving at least 120 community women from Quezon City, Caloocan City, Bulacan, Bataan, Laguna, and Quezon Province. These are the same areas where the 60 teen mothers come from. All the participants to the interviews and FGDs are poor girls and women because according to the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), a lot more girls from families in poverty get pregnant than those who are not poor.
The FGDs discussed the women’s perspectives on adolescent sexuality, teen pregnancy, and contraceptive use of young people. The intent is to compare and analyze the results of the two processes, (interviews and FGDs), highlight the actual experiences of teen moms, come up with general observations, and develop recommendations on how teen pregnancy may be effectively addressed.
The DSWP has yet to finish the whole process but already, some important “trends” have emerged. Thus, pending the final numbers, this piece will share vital observations and a few recommendations to address the problem.
What is emerging is the fact that teen pregnancy is a complex problem. It is deeply rooted in a Filipino culture that remains largely conservative, where sex and everything related to it is considered as taboo and not discussed, or difficult to discuss especially in families. Connected with this is how the rights of women and girls, particularly in relation with reproductive health and sexuality, are marginalized even in terms of government programs available to them.
That sex and sexuality are taboo is quite evident in the girls’ experiences where none of them had any serious conversation with their parents regarding relationships, sex, early pregnancy and the like. Most said that as soon as they had menarche, they were told not to allow boys to touch them or they would get pregnant, period.
Worse, some of the girls were ordered to perform the traditional things about menstruation such as: jumping from the third step of the stairs so their “period” would only last for three days, using their menstruation as “face wash” to avoid pimple outbreaks, and refraining from eating sour fruits to not block the flow of “blood.”
A good number of teen moms said that they had sex education topics in school a few times but that they have since forgotten about what was taught them noting that when these were discussed, their class became rowdy. Some also noted that when topics on sex and relationships are on, these mostly focus on the biology of things. A few interviewed girls remembered the formula egg + sperm = pregnancy. However, there is very little conversation on how this happens, even where the sperm and the egg come from. The relevance is lost on the young people.
The thing is, many young people are able to access internet sites that carry sexual content, a good number are not for educational purposes and can possibly exploit their ignorance about sex. The information they get from these sites is not balanced by those they get from their families and schools.
That sex and sexuality is taboo is confirmed by the FGD participants. Only very few of the mothers who have adolescent children have actually discussed these topics with them. They said that it is very discomforting and embarrassing. Others said that this is not proper, that is immoral. The few who exhibited the openness said that they do not know how and what to say to their children. They were also not taught by their own parents. So it becomes a cycle of ignorance and parents end up ordering their adolescent children to not have boyfriends/girlfriends until they are finished with school.
Some parents wanted to pass the responsibility to schools saying that it should be the schools, not them, that should teach their children matters about sex and sexuality.
It is also sad to note that despite everyone seeing the reality of teen pregnancy in their communities because it is getting to be a common occurrence, most of the mothers in the FGDs were in denial that their adolescent offsprings may be sexually active. They are too young, they said.
On the other hand, as expected, all the interviewed young mothers, (except the few who were already living with their boyfriends) said that their parents had no knowledge that they were already in relationships and having sex.
Interviewed teen moms also said that besides them, they have several friends and relatives who have also gotten pregnant quite early. Of those interviewed, a good number started having relationships and having sex at ages 13 and 14. There were those who also got pregnant at these ages.
These belie the thinking of many parents that their adolescent children are too young to learn about sex. Parents may not know it but their adolescents may already be having sex. This is something that parents should seriously think about.
Understandably, parents’ refusal or disbelief that young people may be, or are sexually active is borne of our conservative culture. Sex education is important and the responsibility should be jointly shared by the family, schools, and society as a whole.
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