Why the RH Bill is also a youth issue

Voltaire Tupaz
Experts and youth leaders explain the stake of young people in the ongoing reproductive health debate

STAKE OF THE YOUTH. Experts push for the implementation of adolescent reproductive health. Photo by Voltaire Tupaz

MANILA, Philippines – As senators continue to deliberate whether to pass or not the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, a group of experts urged legislators to consider the stake of the youth in the debate.

In a roundtable discussion among experts from the fields of education, adolescent health, law, demography and social sciences on August 29, they stressed that the incidence of teenage pregnancies continue to grow because young people are denied access to reproductive education and services.

“As we recognize the role of youth in nation-building as indispensable, we have yet to fulfill our obligation to address all their needs that include sexual and reproductive health,” said former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral.

Other experts who joined the discussion included National Scientist Dr Mercedes Concepcion, University of the Philippines College of Law professor Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, UP Center for Women’s Studies Director Dr Sylvia Claudio, and psychologist Dr Margie Holmes.

After they consolidate their positions in September 2012, they will urge Congress to enact the law that would support the implementation of “long overdue appropriate, evidence-based and effective adolescent sexuality and reproductive health programs.”

Life-changing consequences

The experts noted that teenage pregnancy’s life-changing consequences — which includes dropping out from school, maternal deaths and induced abortion — harm the education and employment opportunities for youth and the lives and health of young women.

The number of pregnant teenagers between 15 to 19 years old increased to 59 for every 1000 women in 2011 from 39 in 2006, the experts noted, comparing Family Health Surveys.

Meanwhile, the unmet need for family planning among teenagers in the same age bracket was put at 37%.

The Department of Health (DOH) has also recorded a total of 9,964 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases among this age group. Of this, 1,061 have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and 353 died from 1984 to June 2012.

A recent DOH report also revealed that in July, 278 HIV cases were recorded. This is 36% higher compared to the same period in 2011 with most of the cases belonging to the 20 to 29 age bracket.

“We can no longer afford to deny the fact that more young people are engaged in sexual activity, yet bereft with sufficient information about their sexuality and reproductive health, particularly the consequences of unprotected sex,” Junice Melgar, executive director of the women’s group Likhaan, said.

“The time to act is now,” Melgar stressed.

Youth ignorance on RH issues 

“The RH Bill matters to the youth because we face continuing ignorance [within the sector] on many issues about reproductive health and sexuality,” Juan Carlo Tejano, founder of the Reproductive Health and Gender Advocates Movement told Rappler in an earlier interview.

The youth representative in the Lower House, which passed its version of the bill in August 7, also believes that reproductive health is also a concern of his constituents.

“It addresses the right of young people to access relevant RH services and appropriate information and education,” KABATAAN Partylist Rep Raymond Palatino said.

“Through RH, youth are empowered since they have knowledge and the support of the government to protect their reproductive health needs,” Palatino added.

Anti-RH: Don’t count us out

But some young people strongly oppose the measure, saying that they should not be counted out in the debate.

Ma. Shiril Jalad-Armero, the recipient of the 2012 Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) in Central Visayas, urged President Benigno Aquino III and Congress not to support the enactment of RH Bill.

“Bigyan mo kami ng chance na [i-prove na] effective din itong pinaglalaban namin. Please huwag niyong ipasa [ang RH Bill],” Shiril pleaded.

(Give us a chance to prove that what we are fighting for is effective. Please don’t pass the bill.)

Shiril, who just graduated from medical school, cum laude, won the regional search based on her platform of “upholding life of the born and unborn,” an advocacy she has taken on that focuses on the promotion of natural family planning.

“I want a more effective information dissemination. The reason may not be religious. The reason can be medical because as a doctor of medicine, I am confident that I can defend the said family planning method and prove its effectivity,” Shiril asserted.– Rappler.com

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