Teen widows and the war on drugs
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and what an irony that it coincides with the Catholic feast of Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the Lenten season. Commentators make much of the irony that tomorrow is also, in the Catholic calendar, a “meatless” day, a day of abstinence. So how could lovers celebrate the day “meaningfully,” they ask, if they aren’t allowed a taste of the pleasures of the flesh?
Sex and romance are often taken together, one following the other, as in that old (and outmoded?) song about “love and marriage go[ing] together like a horse and carriage.” But for too many lovers, the romance and sex come at a heavy price, including violence, betrayal, disease, and unplanned pregnancy—the derailing of a life.
Imagine these horrors multiplied for a micropopulation that has lately been growing in the wake of two national phenomena: the war on drugs and the “explosion” in the number of teenage pregnancies. Taken together, these have resulted in an “epidemic” of teenage widows and single mothers, young women who have lost the fathers of their children to the war on drugs, left to fend largely for themselves and their offspring.
In a report prepared for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Ana Santos writes of young women like Durana, who is 16, like her boyfriend was when he was “visited” by four masked men and shot in front of their shanty.
“In a country with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the region, Durana is a teen mother,” writes Santos. “She has lost her coparent and breadwinner to a state-sanctioned drug war that has claimed the lives of thousands of mostly young men.
“Though she was too young to officially marry her boyfriend, Durana is now essentially living as a teen widow. On paper, she is an oxymoron—two words that don’t belong together, forced upon one another. In reality, she is a social anomaly.”
This is what happens “when soaring teen pregnancy rates that have defied a global trend of decline collide with a growing body count of mostly young men slain in drug-related killings.”
Santos points out that while Durana is a single mother (she has since moved back in with her parents), “she is also still a minor and cannot access two things she desperately needs: a job and birth control. Because she is a minor, it’s extremely difficult for her to find either.”
Comments Perci Cendaña, former commissioner of the National Youth Commission: “[Durana] is the intersectionality of our many problems in public health and welfare, security and social justice. It is an indication of our many failures as a society.”
Setting aside for now the deadly toll of the war on drugs, the odds for a secure, safe future for young people like Durana and her partner had always been skewed against them. Even as teen pregnancy rates have been declining worldwide, notes Santos, “the Philippines has consistently bucked this trend and has one of the highest rates in the Asia-Pacific region.”
In addition, the RH law, hailed as a much-needed step forward in the struggle to ensure reproductive health and rights for all, “still requires minors to present parental consent before accessing free birth control services at government-run hospitals and clinics, meaning many teenagers miss out—even those who have children already. Every day, more than 500 babies are born to Filipino teenagers.”
Adding to Durana’s burdens are the many hurdles that confront her. She tried to work as a dishwasher and street vendor, writes Santos, but was let go after employers “got nervous about employing a minor.”
A 2016 study by health economist Alejandro Herrin for the UN Population Fund estimates that a teenager who gets pregnant, and who is hence not likely to finish high school, could miss out on up to P83,000 a year in earnings. The same study calculated a loss of P33 billion—about 1.1 percent of the Philippines’ GDP—to the economy as a result of early pregnancy.
And when these circumstances are made all the more onerous when one parent is killed in the course of the war on drugs, the cost to the young widows and to society—in terms of economics as well as morale—is indeed too heavy to bear.
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