Youths behaving ‘badly’
The context is different. One case involved a petition at the US Supreme Court by two employers who wished to be exempted from a provision in the Healthcare Act (aka “Obamacare”) because providing contraception to their employees offended their religious beliefs. The other concerns the Philippine Supreme Court which is due to release—soon, it is hoped—its ruling determining whether the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law is constitutional or, as some petitioners contend, violates the Constitution for, among other things, offending the religious sensibilities of some.
The New York Times, commenting in an editorial on the first case, observed that “the strongest single argument” against the petition for exemption “would be the Constitution’s establishment clause enforcing the separation of church and state and barring government from favoring one religion over another or nonbelievers.”
“That is exactly what would happen,” said the editorial, “if federal courts [were required] to grant private for-profit employers an exemption that would effectively allow them to impose their beliefs on employees to deny them a valuable government benefit.”
And that is exactly what would happen if the Reproductive Health Law were to be shot down, or if significant portions of it were to be neutered, by our own Supreme Court.
Having gone through the rigors of over a decade’s worth of public hearings, debate and deliberations in both the House and the Senate, the RH Law is presumed to reflect the sensibilities and preferences of not just lawmakers but their constituents as well.
But if the Supreme Court gives way to the petition to scuttle the law, then it would be privileging the groups’ particular religious and even “cultural” sensibilities. The justices would be depriving many more Filipinos of a “valuable government benefit” that saves the lives of women and infants, and helps families manage limited resources (not just monetary but also time, parental attention, patience, and perseverance), and all because it offends some people’s judgmental views on how others should behave.
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Among the points raised by the anti-RH camp is that the RH Law would “corrupt” young Filipinos by giving them access to information, counseling and services on sexuality and reproduction. The loudest voices—among them from sitting justices—were raised against sexuality education. This even if the law says this should be “age-appropriate,” vetted by education authorities, and mandatory only in public schools.
But already we are seeing the “fruits” of these years—decades!—of neglect and indifference, the absence of comprehensive sexuality education in public schools, and hostility to the very idea of educating our young people about their bodies, their bodily functions, their emotions, and their relationships.
There is a prevailing notion among our “moral leaders” that if we keep children and young people “innocent”—read: ignorant—of sexuality and sexual concerns, they will never think about such things, hold on to their virginity, and behave chastely. But as parents from one generation to the next can tell you, dictating to teens and preteens how they should think and behave, or worse, imposing ignorance on them, is an invitation to disaster.
Young people would either rebel and try to prove their elders wrong, or, driven by curiosity, hormones and peer pressure, embark on sexual experimentation and misadventures.
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The fourth edition of the Young Adult Fertility Survey (YAFS4) indicates that, as a news website put it, teen pregnancy is “trending” in the Philippines.
Over the past decade (the YAFS is conducted every 10 years), the number of young mothers (15-19 years old) has more than doubled: from 6.3 percent of young women in 2002, to 13.6 percent—about 700,000—today.
Much of the coverage focused on the role of “social media” in facilitating the, uh, “coming together” of young men and women for purposes other than school projects. But the truth is that the prevalence of what used to be known as “premarital sex,” now amended to “early sex,” has been increasing since the first YAFS in 1982. In this latest iteration, the survey (covering approximately 17,000 respondents over almost all provinces) found that 32 percent of 19.2 million—one in three—young Filipinos have had sexual experience. This is an increase compared to 23.2 percent in 2002, and 17.8 percent in 1994.
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Of those having “early sex,” 78 percent said they had been “unprotected,” not just against pregnancy but also against sexually transmitted infections.
YAFS4 also found that the young respondents had engaged in “risky sexual activities,” including casual sex (as opposed to regular?), 7.3 percent; extramarital sex (some respondents were already married adolescents), 3.1 percent; and relationships known as “FUBU” (or friends with sexual benefits), 3.5 percent.
The good news among this cluster of—take your pick—alarming, dismaying, disappointing news, is that other than engaging in increased sexual activity, young Filipinos are behaving better when it comes to things like smoking, drinking, drug use and nursing suicidal thoughts, with usage significantly decreasing since the last survey.
Thank God for small favors? When teens among us decide to “behave badly,” it seems, they much prefer chasing sexual pleasure than chemical distraction. But in the process, they are laying the ground for a new generation just as ignorant, just as at risk as them. Unless our venerable justices see the light and let the RH Law do what it’s meant to do.
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