At Large

A ‘silent crisis’


The numbers alone paint an alarming picture. Between the years 2000 and 2010, pointed out Carmelita Ericta, administrator of the National Statistics Office, the number of babies born to teenage mothers (aged 15-19 years) rose from 7.1 percent to 11.7 percent.

In the same period, the proportion of all maternal deaths among teenagers doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent, while around 18 percent of teenage girls reported experiencing physical and sexual violence.

That isn’t even the entire picture. Young mothers are having their babies and raising them in large part by themselves, or with the help of their parents or families. This is because the number of marriages has declined in the past decade, with the proportion of teenage couples currently standing at 1.8 percent.

It is a difficult enough situation for a teenager finding herself pregnant or responsible for a newborn, even as she struggles with issues of identity and autonomy. But add to this the “stigma” attached to premarital or premature pregnancy, and factors like lack of education, absence of employable skills or relationship troubles, and we have a life gone awry multiplied thousands of times.

“It’s about time this issue is discussed thoroughly,” said Percival Cendaña, a commissioner of the National Youth Commission, at the press conference organized by The Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc. “Teenage pregnancy is a ‘silent crisis’ in this country, for while the trend is waning in the rest of the world, in the Philippines the number of teenage pregnancies is on the rise.”

Getting pregnant in one’s teens, added Cendaña, can have lifelong consequences. While the Department of Education has already issued guidelines that pregnant public school students should not be penalized by suspension or expulsion, Cendaña said it’s another story with private schools, especially, I think, Catholic high schools. In many cases, the administrators would either expel a pregnant student outright (even if the father of her child is exempt from sanctions) or refuse permission for her to march during graduation. “This has an impact on the social mobility of young women,” Cendaña pointed out, “and affects their ability to find a job and nurture and educate their own children.”

Indeed, separate studies have shown that teenage pregnancy goes beyond a single lifetime, since the daughters and sons of adolescent parents “inherit” their lack of access to education and jobs and end up as teenage parents themselves.

* * *

In response, said Cendaña, schools, families and civil society groups (including Churches) should provide young people “comprehensive sexuality education.” This, he said, goes beyond “just” sex education, but also “values formation paired with scientific information” to help young people “make the right decisions.”

Global studies, he added, have long shown and determined that “young people who are made aware of the implications of sexual activity will postpone their sexual debut.”

In their visits around the country talking to young people in and outside school, added Cendaña, he has encountered many of the myths that prove “how lack of access to information has affected so many youth.”

For one, he said, so many teenagers “still believe that if a girl stands up right after sex, she will not get pregnant, or if she pees right after, her partner’s sperm will not be able to get her pregnant.” Laughable, true, but “with uninformed young people getting their information about sex from other, similarly uninformed young people,” the misconceptions tend to spread and persist.

Other reasons for the rising levels of adolescent pregnancy, said Cendaña, could be the “evolving nature of women’s bodies,” with menarche or the onset of menstruation occurring earlier in life and possibly before a girl could be properly oriented about this stage of life. Then there is “the changing social context,” with speedy and easily broken relationships becoming the norm, and “the high level of physical attraction” obtaining among young people.

* * *

Adolescent pregnancy happens to be the theme of World Population Day, which is observed worldwide on July 11 (Thursday).

In his message, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund, stressed that “Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development issue. It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights.”

So it was serendipitous, too, that the press conference took place a day before the first hearings on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law, which will be discussed in the Supreme Court today.

Among the matters to be debated at the high tribunal is the right of young people to more and better sexuality education, which some of the petitioners have decried as a “violation” of parents’ right to exercise authority over their children, including their right to inform (or not) their children about their bodies, their sexuality and their responsibilities.

Survey after survey, including a recent one conducted by the Social Weather Stations and sponsored by The Forum, has shown that, by and large, young people believe in the importance of sexuality education and in fact clamor for it.

And as the experience of the past decade has shown, when we ignore our responsibilities as parents and adults, we abandon our children to unplanned, mistimed pregnancy and a life sentence of poverty and missed chances. We reap what we (fail to) sow.

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  • cato_the_younger

    The thing about private schools suspending women who get pregnant out of wedlock is so true. Talk about hypocrisy! Since many of these private schools are Catholic run, you have an institution that frowns on abortion, yet when the pregnant person actually chooses to carry the child to term, they make it as difficult for her.
    As for young women getting pregnant, this is precisely the reason why there is a need for honest to goodness comprehensive sex education in schools – one that will not only touch on contraception but also discuss human sexuality and responsibilty (saying no for example, or sex and love being two different things, as well as possible consequences of sexual choices).

  • josh_alexei

    Ms David, found this one from the Catholic District school board of Niagara Region. This policy is about similar to most other Catholic School Board district all over the Province and same with Public Schools Boards..every school has a Student child development program that after 6 months of delivery, a teenage mom can go back to school and leave her child to the School child care development program to take care while mom take care of her Studies… instead of expelling her from School. Below is one example of the Boards’ Policy that are similar throughout…

    Niagara Catholic District School Board

    STUDENT PARENTING POLICYAdopted:March 27, 2001Revised: December 18, 2012Policy No. 302.5


    In keeping with the Mission, Vision and Values of the Niagara Catholic District School Board and in the spirit of Gospel values and being faithful to Church teaching, Niagara Catholic District School Board staff are to be assisted in understanding the Catholic teaching of respect for life from the moment of conception.

    The Board recognizes and provides support in cases of student pregnancy and parenting. In such cases, it empowers Board personnel to respond with respect, compassionate concern and unconditional love in accordance with the principles and procedures necessary for the implementation of this policy.

    Through the implementation of a resource guide, the Board will require staff to respond by empowering Board personnel: to respond with respect, compassion and love; to assist the student by providing information, insight and support; to support the rights of the child in the womb; to make a concerted effort to involve the student’s family members in the process; and to encourage the student to continue his/her education within the system and maintain his/her career plans. Within this loving, affirming environment our students will receive psychological and spiritual guidance and their right to privacy and confidentiality will be safeguarded where possible.

    The Director of Education will establish a Niagara Catholic Resource Guide that will serve to support the implementation of this policy.

  • phthlateous

    learn how they solve problems like this from the Western world, e.g., teenage pregnancy solutions from America.

    the Phils. is just copying what has happened or is still happening there; we’re probably about 10 years behind but are fast keeping in step.

    hopefully we copy also the good stuff and not only the problematic ones.

  • Islaslolo

    The archbishops do not want to hear about this “silent crisis” just as they don’t want to hear about the sex abuses of priests.

    They don’t want us to have formal sex education classes conducted by competent and trained instructors. And they don’t want us to have access to prophylactic devices like condoms and diaphragms.

    Why don’t they want to give us the freedom and responsibility to make our own decisions?

  • panhase

    Putting our heads in sand will not stop young people from having sex, it never did.

    But nurturing and supporting their resourcefulness, resiliency and proactiveness through education can prevent life-altering unplanned events.

  • panhase

    Putting our heads in sand will not stop young people from having sex, it never did.
    But nurturing and supporting their resourcefulness, resiliency and proactiveness through education can prevent life-altering unplanned events.

  • panhase

    I am posting this now for the third time, let´s see if it will pass the censorship now.

    Putting our heads in sand will not stop young people from having sex, it never di.
    But nurturing and supporting their resourcefulness, resiliency and proactiveness through education can prevent life-altering unplanned events.

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