Don’t blame our ‘feckless’ youth
Whenever talk turns to early or teen pregnancy (girls as young as 9 years old have gotten pregnant) a common reaction is to lay the blame on our “feckless youth.”
Adults are too ready to cite the supposed irresponsibility or cluelessness of young people, or else their lack of scruples for engaging in sex before they are ready for its consequences, including not just pregnancy but even death or disability. Often, equal blame is put on popular media, including TV, movies, pop songs and social media that supposedly promote irresponsible sexual behavior. Some parents also blame social media that supposedly enables easy and anonymous “hookups” that can lead to sexual activity and pregnancy.
But the blame game rarely mentions the role played by adults, including parents but also teachers, religious leaders, public health personnel and health educators in allowing, if not encouraging, the present “alarming” situation. In the words of Socio-economic Secretary Ernesto Pernia, this has become “a national social emergency.”
There is, for one, the very real possibility of pregnancies among girls and young women arising from violence including rape, if not incest. In the poorest areas of the country, early pregnancy has even been “normalized,” a natural consequence of girls’ lack of access to education and poor prospects for employment. Making matters worse is the lack of access to proper information regarding sexuality and reproduction, as well as the denial of services to young women and men who need these most. As matters stand, an adolescent needs, at least officially, written consent from a parent before receiving the necessary information and services from public health centers.
The Forum for Family Planning and Development says it has “come face-to-face with teen girls who have stopped schooling because they have started childbearing, and this scenario worsens in areas with poverty and lack of education.”
The Philippines currently ranks third highest in Southeast Asia with an adolescent fertility rate of 57 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19. From 2002-2013, pregnancies among teens increased from 4.4 percent to 11 percent, a “staggering” 150-percent increase over just 10 years.
A recent special report in this paper mentions several other factors that could be laid directly at the door of government, including local governments. Commission on Population Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III bemoaned the “lack of commitment” among LGUs that pay mere “lip service” to the responsible parenthood and reproductive health law. “They don’t provide the resources [and] don’t hire [health workers]” said Perez. Such a lukewarm attitude, he added, “undermines a couple’s desire to plan their family.”
Another hindrance is the lack of trained personnel, especially doctors who know how to perform nonscalpel vasectomy, a vastly more efficient and less complicated form of permanent sterilization. With succeeding administrations proving unsupportive of family planning, especially in the matter of providing an adequate budget for the program, the number of doctors qualified and willing to perform the procedure (and ease men’s fears that it will affect their sexual health) has dwindled. Knowledge about the procedure itself remains dismal, with only 0.1 percent of men in the Philippines availing themselves of it, according to Dr. Jondi Flavier, executive director of the Philippine Center for Population and Development, in a November 2016 interview.
So, it is not merely horny young people and reckless behavior that are to blame for the “dramatic” and dangerous rise in early pregnancies among Filipino youth. A big part of the problem is structural, with a public health system throwing up barriers against easy and available access to much-needed reproductive health knowledge and services, and a social structure that encourages a punitive attitude against a most vulnerable sector of the population.
Increasing teen pregnancies is not a problem of bad behavior or lack of morals. Rather, it is an institutional health crisis, one that puts the lives of young mothers and their children at risk. The Forum says that the problem is aggravated when the young mother, “who is not yet fully educated about childbearing, becomes pregnant again without the benefit of proper birth spacing and is subjected anew to the increased risks of pre-term deliveries and (birthing) a low birth-weight baby,” a situation that places the burden of lifetime poor health on both mother and child.
Early pregnancies have health, social and even economic consequences on the country. It’s time to link arms and change minds and hearts about our “feckless youth” and their very real urgent needs.
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