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Editorial

Early pregnancy not always girl’s fault

/ 05:00 AM February 23, 2020

Pregnancy among Filipino girls are becoming more common. Of particular concern is the rising number of pregnant girls aged 10-14, with the number of births by young mothers rising by 63 percent from 2011 to 2018.

Most adults would tend to blame “the youth,” citing their impetuousness, recklessness, and “lack of morality” supposedly arising from such influences as the internet, but especially social media, TV and movies, pop, rock, rap and other forms of music, drug use — and even faulty or absent role models.

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True, these factors may indeed influence young people’s behaviors. They may even lead to young people questioning the values instilled in them by their parents and other authoritative adults. But pregnancy and risky sexual behaviors are not all the fault of the young. They have plenty of “help” from adults.

Romeo Dongeto, executive director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, cites what he calls the “darker side” of teenage pregnancies, especially among the pre- and early teens.

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Not all teenage pregnancies are consensual, said Dongeto at a press forum. A lot of early pregnancies may be attributed to abuse and forced sex or rape, he said.

Adding to the darkness is the possibility that sexual abuse is committed by family members or men known to the families of the victims. Their relationship means they enjoy a modicum of familiarity and trust.

Dongeto cited government data finding that “the partners of the teenage mothers are apparently older than them.” In 2014, he said, 2,250 girls aged 10-14 gave birth, but only 64 of their partners were of the same age. “So [for] 2,000 plus [girls], their partners were older than them”—certainly a skewed (and screwed) situation.

An interesting sidelight is that the incidence of teenage pregnancies among girls aged 15-19 decreased from 182,906 in 2017 to 181,717 in 2018.

Population Commission executive director Juan Antonio Perez III said “individual” and “institutional” factors were behind the contrasting trends between the two age groups.

Among the individual factors were early onset of menstruation, lack of education, and exposure to risky behaviors on the internet and in the girls’ circle of friends.

Institutional factors include information dissemination and provision of access to family planning services for the younger population, said Perez. He cited the need for more “strategic” action with regard to the vulnerable pre- and early teens, citing “cultural” factors and the need “to get more institutions and adults involved.”

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According to Department of Health (DOH) program manager Dulce Elfa, the DOH divides adolescents into three groups: those who are not sexually active, those who are sexually active, and those who are pregnant or are already parents. For the first group, the DOH believes in teaching the young to delay sexual activity.

Those who are sexually active should be “protected from unplanned pregnancy coupled with prevention of sexually transmitted infections including HIV.” And those who are already pregnant or have children should be helped to prevent “rapid repeat pregnancy.”

In other words, the DOH prescription for teens not yet sexually active is to encourage abstinence, which, studies worldwide show, is not particularly effective in delaying sexual activity.

Regardless of current sexual attitudes or behavior, what young people need most of all is information, delivered by knowledgeable and, more important, credible, adults who will share the facts without resorting to moral judgment or catering to myths and misconceptions.

But what use would all this information be if young people cannot access information or services on family planning from public facilities?

An amendment imposed by the Supreme Court on the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law prevents government health personnel from dispensing reproductive health advice, commodities or services to minors who cannot show a letter from a parent or parents authorizing them to enjoy what is essentially their human right.

Even worse is the current law that allows sexual relations with a 12-year-old which would not be considered statutory rape.

Imagine this scenario: A 10-year-old coerced into sex with an adult and pregnant, who cannot even bring herself to divulge her problem to her parents, seeks advice from health center personnel, only to be turned away because she is “too young” to have such a problem.

Parents, pray that that 10-year-old would not be your daughter.

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