A political group in the House of Representatives is seeking a congressional investigation on the rising incidence of teenage pregnancies in the Philippines.
This is seen as a major health issue especially for the marginalized sector who have little to no access to family planning methods, health services and other relevant information about reproductive health.
This follows the latest reports from the Commission on Population and Development – figures crafted in 2020 – on the rising pregnancies among minors aged 10-14.
“In 2019, 2,411 girls considered as very young adolescents aged 10 to 14 gave birth, or almost seven every day. This was a three-fold increase from 2000, when only 755 from the said age group gave birth,” the commission said.
Quickly, the Makabayan Bloc in the House sought a congressional investigation through Resolution 1571, where the bloc members — Reps. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela; Carlos Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat of Bayan Muna and France Castro of ACT Teachers – voiced concern over the PopCom report.
Overall, the number of Filipino minors who gave birth in 2019 increased to 62,510, slightly higher than the 62,341 minors in 2018.
In the Senate, Senator Win Gatchalian also called for a more aggressive government response to prevent young girls from being pregnant and falling in the trap of ‘intergenerational poverty.’
Gatchalian also warned that the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to further increase the number of adolescent pregnancies, citing experiences from past calamities and disasters.
Some research papers have suggested that adolescent pregnancy affects about 6 percent of Filipino girls.
Based on Save the Children’s Global Childhood Report from 2019, that pretty much reads like a small number but is the second highest rate in Southeast Asia.
An estimated 538 babies are born to Filipino teenage mothers each day, according to the government-run Philippine Statistica Authority, based on its documents in 2017.
If 538 babies are born each day without fail at 365 days a common year, that translates to 196,370 babies born each year to teenage mothers in predominantly Christian Philippines, where an estimated 80 percent are Catholics.
And almost 200,000 teenagers get pregnant every year.
There are also roughly 40 births each year by girls who have not yet reached the age of 13, carrying a baby in their young wombs
Population experts have said these young girls are nearly entirely unprepared for motherhood and often have no place to turn to except to give up the baby they just fostered for nine months.
Some have offered some solutions: Birth control? Abortion?
The country’s Catholic Church is opposed to birth control in the country, with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines declaring in public statements, on the pulpit and through allied lawmakers the Church is against a bill to widen access to birth control on moral grounds, calling it “anti-life” and “a major attack on authentic human values and on Filipino cultural values.”
In 2012, the Philippines passed a reproductive health bill into law. But years of Supreme Court challenges and delays in implementation continue to date. Among the concessions to conservatives was a provision requiring parental consent for minors to buy contraceptives or receive them for free.
Dr. Juan Perez III, executive director of the Philippine Commission on Population and Development, said “It was one step back [for] adolescent health (and) the law improved access to birth control for women, but it became harder for teenagers to get birth control.”
To address the resulting uptick in adolescent pregnancies, lawmakers have introduced bills improving access to contraception, supporting sex education and making it illegal to expel girls from school should they become pregnant.
Perez said a teenage pregnancy has a significant impact on perpetuating poverty. “They cannot recover from being a child mother,” he said.
That was the finding of a 2016 study by the United Nations Population Fund.
By age 20, a teenage girl in the Philippines who gets pregnant and drops out of school earns 87 percent of the average 20-year-old woman’s pay, according to Perez, who said said the lower income continues further into adulthood.
We take the side of the House Resolution which said “Minors who are pregnant or who are caring for their newborn babies face worse circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as reproductive health services and basic social services are inaccessible due to pandemic limitations and age-specific restrictions on mobility.”
Timely that there should be a review of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law to assess “hardships in implementing an age and development-appropriate sexuality education and other important government programs” provided under the law.
Gatchalian has a marble when he stressed the role of parents as health educators in shaping young people’s attitude and behavior, where parents need to be capacitated in terms of effectively talking to their children about sexuality and reproductive health issues.
Republic Act 10354 or Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 calls for an age-appropriate and development-appropriate reproductive health education, which aims to build knowledge and skills on protecting one’s self from teen pregnancy, sexual abuse, gender based violence, and responsible teenage behavior, among others.