"The situation makes breaking the cycle of poverty much more difficult."
Much has been said about how the number of our young girls who get pregnant keeps increasing. The Commission on Population even called adolescent pregnancy a national emergency. Yet, little is done to address this.
Around 24 babies are born to teen mothers every hour. The 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reveals that: 9 percent of girls aged 15-19 (200,000) have begun childbearing; more girls in rural areas (10.1 percent) get pregnant than those in urban areas (6.8 percent); more girls in the poorest families get pregnant (15 percent) compared with the richest ones (3 percent); 32 percent of girls with elementary education get pregnant while only 4 percent of those with college education do; and the highest unmet need for family planning is among those aged 15-19 (37.5 percent).
POPCOM said that in 2019, births among girls below fifteen years old increased by 7 percent (2,411) compared with the 2018 figures. Moreover, 10 percent (62,510) of all pregnancies in the country are adolescent pregnancies. This problem needs urgent attention.
Sadly, even the Reproductive Health Law is not enough. There are many gaps and weaknesses when it comes to addressing early pregnancies. A new law needs to be urgently passed by Congress. Such a law should be comprehensive, rights- and evidence-based, and gender-responsive. It must be attuned to the present realities of adolescents, particularly girls, and their families. It must deal with both prevention and the consequences of early pregnancy on the lives of adolescents and their families.
The results of our organization’s study on the issue show these. It will be best for Congress to favorably consider recommendations based on women’s and adolescents’ experiences.
There are at least ten bills and resolutions pending in the House of Representatives (HOR) and the Senate. Both Houses must treat these proposals with great urgency especially since this COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation of Filipinos in general and those in poverty in particular. Adolescent parents, sadly, are concentrated in poor households.
Through the years, we have witnessed how the problem of early pregnancy is primarily a women’s and girls’ rights issue. This is particularly true in our culture where their rights are not given due importance despite the country’s international obligations, and the present laws protecting women’s and children’s rights.
It is the adolescent girls who are manipulated, coerced, threatened, or forced to have sex with, at many times, much older men. It is the girls whose lives are put in danger because teen pregnancy is a high-risk pregnancy. It is the girls who suffer many forms of abuse and violence in the hands of their partners, and sometimes, even from their own family members. It is the girls who are saddled with multiple responsibilities once motherhood begins. These are the harsh realities faced by girls, more than boys.
These necessitate provisions on the substantive participation of women’s and children’s rights organizations and the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) in the bills, and subsequently, the law. It must be noted that presently, the RH-non-government organizations are actively trying to address adolescent pregnancy but these efforts cannot be enough. A law is needed for the government to move in a big way.
Some very crucial provisions to effectively address this problem are those dealing with: age-and-development-appropriate adolescent sexuality and reproductive health (ASRH) education for in-school and out-of-school youth; SRH education for parents, especially mothers, and guardians; and adolescent access to RH information and services including modern family planning without need for consent.
ASRH education for in-school children and adolescents should be integrated in all grade levels. The fact is, sexuality and RH- related matters are learned at a very young age. Sexuality is a normal part of life and should not be stigmatized. Discussing sex is necessary for many things. The caution should be in terms of age-and-development appropriateness of the lessons.
Equally important is ASRH for out-of-school adolescents. These are the young people who are often kept in the dark. This needs to change.
Parents need to learn about sexuality and RH. We found that mothers do not and cannot discuss sexuality-related matters with their adolescent children. Most have discomfort in tackling subjects that they know little about, and are taboo in our culture. These women want to learn so they can properly guide their children.
Adolescent access to modern, scientific, and comprehensive family planning information and services needs to be guaranteed. Many teen mothers want to use contraceptives but are either misinformed or prevented from accessing the service due to their age. No wonder, the number of REPEAT teen pregnancy cases is quite high. Full access to family planning is crucial.
Adolescent pregnancy affects not only the girls and their partners but also their families. Almost all of those interviewed said that while they lived hard lives before motherhood, things have become even more difficult since. Moreover, most have stopped their schooling. These make breaking the cycle of poverty harder. Asked about their hopes and plans, the big majority said that they want to go back to school and also, earn a living. They want to improve their lives and the law can help them do this.
A laudable feature of some teen pregnancy bills are the provisions dealing with social protection for adolescent parents. Congress must approve these with the addition of scholarships, free technical and vocational training, job placement, and livelihood programs for adolescent parents and their families as specific forms of social protection.
Adolescents are children. Children should not be parents. Girls must not be mothers. We urgently need Congress to pass the adolescent pregnancy prevention bill into law
@bethangsioco on Twitter; Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook