At a time when everything you need to know can be found through the internet, is there really a need for more sex education for Filipino teens? Klaus Beck, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative to the Philippines, believes so, and he thinks a stronger sex education program could address the country’s problem with teenage pregnancy.
Girls aged 15-19 make up 10 percent of the Philippines’ population of 100 million, and one out of 10 is already a mother. According to the UNFPA, which recently released its State of the World Population report, the Philippines is the only Asia-Pacific country where the rate of teen pregnancies rose in the last two decades. It is a situation that, Beck says, “limits far too many girls’ hopes, dreams and aspirations … and costs the country around P33 billion each year in foregone earnings.”
Beck is talking about the “demographic dividend,” the expected window of opportunity when the Philippines’ young population reaches effective working age and outnumbers younger and older dependents. More people working should translate into faster economic growth, except that an early and unplanned pregnancy often blocks a girl’s chance to finish schooling and stymies her opportunity to pursue not only a livelihood but also a career.
Citing Republic Act No. 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 which mandates that “the government shall provide age- and development-appropriate sexuality education to adolescents,” Beck stresses the need to invest in quality education and health services for teenage girls. But while mandated by law, the RH program has yet to take off, no thanks to continuing opposition by ultraconservatives and church groups. Hopefully, President Duterte’s firm support for its full implementation would unshackle this law currently held hostage by the Supreme Court’s extension of its temporary restraining order on certain contraceptives and other artificial methods of family planning.
While such barriers to RH Law have placed an unnecessary burden on low-income women and couples who must struggle to raise children they cannot afford, they also offer teenaged girls little leeway in preventing unplanned pregnancies.
As it is, with most parents loath to discuss sex matters with their children due to embarrassment or fear that it would encourage their kids to experiment, young people are left to satisfy their curiosity on their own, often with misguided advice from peers just as clueless. The internet might provide them added information on how to manage their fertility but, unable to access contraceptives because of legal and cultural barriers, they rely on practices that qualify more as old wives’ tales—often with disastrous results.
A strong school-based sex education program, Beck says, can help girls make their way out of the thicket of adolescence where missteps could easily lead to sex-related diseases and teenage pregnancy. But such a program should also enlist parents as active partners who can reinforce at home the positive messages learned in school. In fact, parents can learn from the program, too, especially about issues on sexuality and relationships, according to Rosalie Masilang of the Department of Education.
The primary aim of sexuality education in the K-to-12 curriculum is “to equip and empower learners [to make] informed choices and decisions on issues that affect their personal safety, hygiene, and wellbeing,” Masilang says.
This holistic approach should also include effective and efficient teaching modules and proper training for educators and guidance counselors on the more enlightened and persuasive ways of imparting sensitive information. The program must look as well at how additional income can be generated for parents, especially in depressed communities, to give them more leeway to keep their children in school longer.
It’s time the government looked beyond the drug problem and pivoted toward a future defined by the boundless possibilities of raising educated and empowered girls.
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