By Tracy Cabrera
THE number of children below 15 years old who have gotten pregnant has doubled in 10 years and this has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Commission on Population and Development (PopCom).
As early as June, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has actually warned of this kind of scenario, saying that a possible increase in teen pregnancies in the country during the pandemic would be expected as more and more teenage girls are forced out of schools.
Gatchalian had spoken out based on a projection by PopCom which showed unplanned pregnancies soaring higher amid the Covid-19 crisis.
The senator had likewise noted similar trends on rising unplanned pregnancies during natural calamities.
“Matagal nang hamon sa ating pigilan ang pagdami ng kaso ng maagang pagbubuntis ngunit dahil sa Covid-19, nanganganib na mas dumami pa ang mga kabataang kababaihan na maging batang ina at huminto sa pag-aaral,” Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate basic education committee, pointed out.
According to the senator, this situation should prompt local government units (LGUs) to ramp up their efforts to raise awareness about teenage pregnancy through public health and population management programs.
Recalling the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda that hit the country in 2013, Gatchalian pointed to the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP) study which showed that 23.5 percent of teenage girls in Eastern Visayas got pregnant that year while 14.8 percent got pregnant and had another child the following year.
The senator also noted the 65-percent rise in adolescent pregnancies in affected communities in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak.
Gatchalian underscored the urgency of enhancing comprehensive sexuality education for learners to counter this upsurge in adolescent pregnancies.
He noted that according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the factors of teenage pregnancy include lack of access to school, information, and sexual and reproductive health care.
Gatchalian said that before the coronavirus disease hit the country, experts had already considered teenage pregnancy in the Philippines a “national emergency.”
He further cited findings of the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) in 2017, which showed that adverse pregnancy outcomes “are more likely to occur among teenage mothers, while their children are at greater risk of sickness and even death.”
Based on official data, PopCom executive director Juan Antonio Perez III said pregnancies among children aged 10 to 14 years old went up to 2,200 in 2018, more than double the 1,000 in 2007.
“We have roughly . . . 40 to 50 10-year-old children giving birth every year,” he added. In all, there were 62,000 minors aged 10 to 18 who gave birth in 2018, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said raising the age of consent in the country from 12 years old to no less than 16 years old could help prevent adolescent pregnancies.
This would mean that those who have sexual relations with minors 16 years old and under will be held liable for statutory rape, Zubiri explained.
“I am sure the number of teenage pregnancies would go down if we could increase the statutory rape age,” he added.
Perez said he backed Zubiri’s bill and noted that most of the girls aged 10 to 17 year old who got pregnant had partners who were older than them.
“So there’s an element of power play, of exploitation here because it’s older men who are the partners of these young (girls),” he said.
Aside from Zubiri’s bill, there are six proposed measures in the Senate to raise the age for statutory rape to either 16 years old or 18 years old.
There are at least seven similar bills in the House of Representatives. Perez also said that PopCom has been working with the Department of Education and the Department of Health on a road map to check teenage pregnancies.
“At the core of that (road map) will be implementing comprehensive sexuality education. But we hope that the new bill, if it comes out, would be able to address comprehensive sexuality education also outside of schools and link this education to services,” he said.
Perez said the rule prohibiting minors, even those who are already mothers, from accessing family planning services without their parents’ consent had contributed to the increasing number of adolescent births.