Yesterday, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, or UNFPA, celebrated World Population Day by partnering with youth organizations to provide a platform for marginalized teenage girls. A few days before the event, UNFPA country representative Klaus Beck reported that the Philippines is the only country in the Asia Pacific region where the rate of teen pregnancies is still rising: “Adolescent girls (10 to 19 years old) currently make up 10 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million population. They hold enormous opportunity to transform the future of the Philippines but this can only happen if they have the right information and skills, are healthy, and empowered to make informed decisions in life.” Additionally, one out of 10 of those girls has already given birth and “fertility rate in that age group is 57 births for every 1,000 girls as of 2013—higher than rates found by surveys every five years from 1998.”
Here are more facts:
- One girl, aged 15 to 19, gives birth every two and a half minutes in the Philippines.
- 1 of 3 Filipino youth has engaged in early sex and 78% of those first sexual engagements were unprotected.
- Most teenage girls think that sex is the only way they can express their love and affection.
- 15 percent of women who have sex before they are 15-years-old do so under coercion.
- Poor women, rural women and young women are more likely to experience unintended pregnancies and to seek abortion under unsafe conditions.
According to Inquirer, the reasons for teenage pregnancy include getting caught in the moment, peer pressure, lack of information, lack of access to adolescent-friendly clinics, and lack of good female role models. What’s important to note is that teenage pregnancy is a symptom and not a cause of poverty.
At Babaenihan, the World Population Day event, Vice President Leni Robredo, represented by her eldest daughter Aika, spoke about the role of education when it comes to young girls’ health: “Aside from enriching the minds of our youth, we must also give attention to their health. It is alarming that our country’s unwanted and teenage pregnancies have been increasing in previous years. To address this issue, we must ensure that the proper knowledge is given to our adolescents. The recently passed RH Law includes reproductive health in each school’s curriculum.”
Unfortunately, Filipinas, especially young Filipinas, have yet to reap all the benefits of the RH Law as it is repeatedly hampered. Earlier this year, it was confirmed that there was no more budget allotted for contraceptives this year. Congress took out the P1 billion budget originally for condoms and birth control pills and looked to the DOH to find donors to fund the program instead. Senator Pia Cayetano, a principal sponsor of the RH Law, felt betrayed by her colleagues as she was not informed about the budget cut.
Soon after, May-I Fabros, from the Philippine Commission on Women (PWC), said that the effect of the budget cut would be almost immediate, “citing an instance during the past administration when the budget cut for pills in Quezon City resulted in the spike of pregnancies in a span of one month.”
Continuously blocking the RH Law instills shame in teenage girls. That’s why even though it’s completely legal, they tend to refuse reproductive health services for fear of being labeled a slut. They are also less likely to ask questions about sex and relationships. They are left to figure things out for themselves and are more vulnerable to diseases, attacks, and exploitation.
Despite the Catholic Church’s disapproval, President Duterte has taken an aggressive stance when it comes to supporting the Reproductive Health Law: "I will reinstall the program of family planning. Tatlo tama na 'yan so social workers must be proactive. Better shape up. 'Wag na muna simbahan, away kami diyan eh. National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director Ernesto Pernia echoed these sentiments: “If you enable families to limit and phase their children to what they can afford and what they can provide for, then that’s going to have an effect on poverty and equality.”
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