"These girls still hope for a better future."
I hope those who have read my previous pieces on adolescent pregnancy more or less already have an understanding of this complex problem. Pregnancy among teen-age girls from poor families has trapped them to a life of even more hardships and worsening poverty.
Understandably, the big majority of the teen moms we interviewed have stopped going to school. Very few of them were able to graduate from high school. A handful, with the support of their parents, braved the stigma of teen pregnancy and continued to finish their grade level while pregnant.
As previously discussed, our conservative culture that de-prioritizes women’s and girls’ rights, particularly their sexual and reproductive health and rights has a lot to do with the problem of teen pregnancy. We remain backward in the way we understand sex and sexuality. This gave way to a generation of both parents and young people who are significantly ignorant of how positive sexuality may be lived without putting the lives and future of our young people “at risk.”
This conservative culture has permeated our educational system, our health system, even our laws, and how laws are implemented.
Based on the processes we undertook and our observations and findings, our NGO, the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) is putting forward some recommendations to effectively address the rising numbers of adolescent pregnancies in the country. Some of the major ones are the following:
The implementation of a comprehensive and sustained sexuality education in schools and communities.
The RH law’s provisions on age-and-development appropriate sexuality education MUST be FULLY and PROPERLY implemented by the Department of Education. While the teen mothers we interviewed said that they had some sex education lessons in school, they were also quick to say that they did not learn much because the lessons were not sustained.
There were those who said that their class would turn rowdy when lessons on sexuality education were on. This also has to do with the fact that young people are not used to talking about matters related with sex and sexuality, a reflection of how these topics are treated in our homes.
Community-based SRHR education must also be done for out of school adolescent and parents, especially mothers. The importance of doing this cannot be over-emphasized especially because many parents remain in denial that their adolescent offspring may be sexually active.
Education is the key for parents, particularly mothers, to overcome their perception that sex and sexuality are taboo topics and should not be discussed at home. This will also provide them with the necessary topics that should be the subject of their “talks” with their children.
Sessions on how to discuss sex and sexuality with one’s children are also needed to help develop confidence among parents who want to do this but do not know how. Many community women expressed not just discomfort but also their lack lack of knowledge on how this can be done.
Sensible, objective, and non-judgmental discussion of sex and sexuality in school and in homes needs to be seen as normal, not immoral.
Adolescents who want or need contraceptives should have access to such. Repeat teen pregnancy is a reality among many of the teen moms we interviewed. Not a few said that even if they wanted to, they were not given contraceptives by health centers because they were minors. No wonder, many of them got pregnant again soon after the first pregnancy.
Local health care workers must know that minors are allowed access to contraceptives of their choice provided that there is consent from a parent or guardian. Prohibiting minors from getting the family planning services they need does not help. In fact, it compounds the problem.
The age of consent needs to be raised and the present laws on rape and violence against women need to be properly implemented and understood by women and girls.
Among the young mothers we interviewed, at least thirteen were raped, three were abducted, and many others suffered from physical and other forms of abuse. Most of their rapists, abductors, and abusers were their boyfriends. There were also cases of physical abuse from parents. These are unacceptable.
The present law on statutory rape only applies to girls below twelve years old. The law should be amended to increase the age of consent to at least below eighteen. The rape cases among those we interviewed involved girls sixteen years old and below. Increasing the age of statutory rape will hopefully serve as a deterrent against the crime.
A package of support services need to be provided to families of teen mothers to give them opportunities to improve their lives. This package should include livelihood and employment and scholarship programs.
Livelihood is needed because many of the girls and their partners are jobless. Their families are already dirt poor and most have, from the start, been involved in irregular and contractual jobs. With the COVID-19 pandemic, most lost their jobs and are making do with whatever they can to earn some. Being engaged in a livelihood activity is one of the major “asks” of the teen moms.
A big number of them want to be able to continue and finish their education. A scholarship program will enable them to achieve this and pursue their dreams. Eventually, they will also be able to provide for their children better. A scholarship program may be key for them to break the cycle of poverty they are in.
All of the teen mothers we interviewed still hope that there will be opportunities for them to improve their lot. They want to study, have jobs, and provide for their families. Our society cannot turn a blind eye on them. They still hope for a better future. They are NOT yet a lost generation. They will not be if we help.
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