"The grim numbers carry sad stories at best, and horrific ones at worst."
Alarming statistics were released last week at a press conference jointly held by the Commission on Population and Development and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee for Population and Development.
The number of young Filipinos below the age of 18 being sexually initiated is increasing, girls much faster than boys. Those engaged in risky sexual behavior do so without protection, making them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
Nine percent of women between the ages of 15 and 19 are already mothers or are pregnant with their first child.
Forty-seven out of 1,000 births occur among women between 15 and 19. Among women in this age group, 3.6 percent experience violence during their pregnancy.
As of 2019, 171 babies are born to minors every day. And that is just the beginning.
Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III emphasized a more worrisome development: Pregnancy is increasing among very young adolescents between 10 and 14 years old, with seven live births occurring every day among children in this age group. The number has more than doubled from 1,116 in 2008 to 2,411 in 2019.
And who are the fathers? Generally older men. Two out of three fathers to these babies born to children are older than 20.
We cannot imagine how the sex could be consensual—what horror stories lie beneath these numbers?
Too-early parenthood compromises the future of these children and their offspring. These young mothers are almost always compelled to drop out of school, dashing any hopes of higher education and the opportunity to earn better, much less build a sustainable and satisfying career. They will be forced to rely on other family members or take whatever means of earning comes their way. Nutritional and educational decisions regarding their children will be determined not by what is best for these babies, but what their meager budget can allow. What will happen to households led by minors?
Conditions are made worse by the COVID-19 that exposes people to health risks, restricts their movements and further limits their opportunities.
Despite the passage of the Reproductive Health Law, intended segments of the population are not able to fully realize its benefits. For example, the Supreme Court has restricted the access of minors to reproductive health and family planning services—they can only do so with the consent of their parents, even if they themselves are already pregnant or parents. RH education remains uneven in many places, and may be missing in geographic areas where they are most needed.
The burden lies not on any one agency, branch or section of government. All sectors of society—national and local government, schools, parents, teachers, and the media have a role to play in ensuring young women are aware of the consequences of their actions, and of the options they have all the time.
Children themselves need guidance and care from their elders. If they are forced by circumstance to take care of their own babies at a time when they can hardly even take care of themselves, they will be consigned to a life of hardship, with the pattern likely repeating itself with their children and their children’s children, making youth no longer a promise but a sentence.