Children with children
Worrisome is the announcement of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that the Philippines is the only country in the Asia-Pacific with rising numbers of teenage pregnancies in the past two decades. It’s bad enough when there are more children than can be properly nourished and cared for in this country; it gets worse when those who are bearing children are not much more than children themselves.
In an Associated Press report, UNFPA country representative Klaus Beck said that Filipino girls aged 15-19 now make up 10 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million population, and that one out of 10 has already given birth. Surely this is not the kind of distinction that the country wants, or needs. According to the UNFPA 2015 report on the sexual and reproductive health of young people in the Asia-Pacific, 57 in every 1,000 Filipino girls aged 15-19 gave birth in the period 2006-2013. “Unintended pregnancy, particularly if it occurs outside of marriage, can have substantial consequences for young people including stigma, social isolation, school expulsion, forced marriage, and in some cases violence and suicide,” the report said. “Globally, around half of all unintended pregnancies end in induced abortion, which, in settings where legal abortion is highly restricted and the majority are unsafe, can lead to considerable morbidity and mortality.”
To give everyone a general idea of the problem (because problem it is), 17.5 percent of boys and 17.9 percent of girls with an average age of 16 reported having sex in 2013, the UNFPA said. Of the number, 78 percent admitted not using any form of protection against pregnancy during their first sexual encounter, and 76 percent admitted not using any contraception in subsequent encounters.
This early sexual activity has led to not only early pregnancies but also an increasing number of HIV infections. (As of February 2016, there have been 31,911 diagnosed cases of HIV infection since January 1984 in the Philippines, according to Department of Health figures. In January and February 2016 alone, there were 804 and 751 such cases, respectively.) Said the 2015 UNFPA report: “Despite most young people having heard of HIV, comprehensive knowledge of transmission and prevention is low among 15-24-year-olds in all countries.”
How to address this building crisis? “What is needed is a new way of thinking about the challenges of adolescent pregnancy,” says UNFPA executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. “Instead of viewing the girl as the problem and changing her behavior as the solution, governments, communities, families and schools should see poverty, gender inequality, discrimination, lack of access to services, and negative views about girls and women as the
real challenges, and the pursuit of social justice, equitable development and the empowerment of girls as the true pathway to fewer adolescent pregnancies.”
Thus, Beck outlines these necessary steps: “(1) address the unmet needs for family planning, (2) ensure that young people (especially girls) get proper education, and (3) provide opportunities for productive employment.”
While the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law does present some attempts to deal with the situation, Beck correctly points out that the law itself is hounded by many challenges, including the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order that prevents the DOH from distributing certain modern contraceptives. He
issued the timely reminder: “Reproductive health and rights are pivotal to young people’s realization of their full potential. Investing in young people by ensuring that they stay in school and have access to comprehensive health care that encompasses sexual and reproductive health, is investing in a bright future for them and the Philippines. With their education and reproductive health safeguarded, young people will be better prepared to become and remain part of the workforce and contribute to sustainable development.”
As always, the bottom line is continuing education, particularly for young people: on the workings of the human body; on adolescent development and self-esteem; on risky sexual behavior and its possible results, including pregnancy or HIV infection. The battle cry remains:
Save the children!
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