Urgent response needed to address teen pregnancy

Ana P. Santos
It’s time to have a national conversation about the issue of teen pregnancy, a youth group says, noting that in the region, only the Philippines experiences a growing number of cases

MANILA, Philippines – Dory Sucaguing was 19 when she gave birth to her first child. “It was very hard. We are not rich and even though I could go to the health center it’s not totally free. You’re still asked to give a donation of say, P20. Sometimes you are obliged to donate,” said Dory, speaking in Filipino.

“I didn’t have enough money to buy pre-natal vitamins, and that was before the baby. When the baby came, my husband and I had to ask our relatives and friends for clothes.”

Now 24 years old, Dory is a mother of 3.

Dory’s sister Angeline was 13 when she found out when she was pregnant. “I was scared. Some friends even told me to get an abortion.”

Now 19, Angeline is separated from the father of her child and raising her child on her own.

TEEN MOMS. Over 600 people gather for a summit organized by the First National Youth Commission to discuss the issue of teen pregnancy and how best to address it. Photo by Ana P. Santos

These were some of the stories shared at the country’s first National Summit on Teen Pregnancy on Friday, September 14.

The summit, which was organized by the First National Youth Commission (NYC) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), is a response to the alarming increase in teen pregnancy in the Philippines.

About one-third of all pregnancies in the Philippines occur between the ages of 15 and 24.

According to the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality study of 2002, by age 20, about a fourth or 25% of all women of childbearing age have children or are pregnant.

“Compared to ASEAN neighbors, the Philippines is the third highest in teenage pregnancy, next to LAO PR and Timor Leste,” said Josefina Natividad, University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI).

More alarming, Natividad pointed out, is that it is only the Philippines, among its regional neighbors, that experiences increasing teen pregnancies.

Changing lifestyles, shifting norms and an earlier onset of menarche (first menstruation) are contributing to the rise in teen pregnancy. “These factors are further compounded by peer pressure and early sexual engagement,” said Natividad.

In her presentation, Natividad explained that education and economic status have an impact on teen pregnancy.

“The risk of early childbearing is not equally distributed among all women within this age group (15-19).  Women with higher education level and belonging to a higher wealth quintile are at less risk,” said Natividad.

Teen pregnancy an epidemic

“Teenage pregnancy is an epidemic,” UNFPA Country Representative Ugochi Daniels said. “We all know that a young girl, pregnant in her teenage years faces a lot of risks. Her body is not yet fully developed and ready to carry a child. It puts her at risk of complications, even death. Aside from health complications, in most cases, the girl is forced to drop out of school.”

“It (teen pregnancy) is not a choice she makes for herself, it is a consequence she has to live with, out of lack of information and options. If no one takes action, this cycle will go on and ultimately contribute to the long standing issue of poverty that affects most young Filipinos,” Daniels added.

Celebrity Andi Eigenmann also spoke at the summit sharing her own experience of becoming pregnant at the age of 21.

Though no longer a teen, Eigenmann shared that she went through the same feelings as Dory and Angeline. “I was scared. Being in show business, I was working already at the time, but I was still living with my parents.”

Andi’s older sister had her first baby when she was 17. It was to her that Andi turned for help.

“I know I hurt my parents and disappointed them, but they knew that at the time, what I needed most was support. Not all girls in my situation are that fortunate,” said Eigenmann.

Urgent national response needed

During afternoon workshop sessions, the different government agencies (the Department of Social Welfare, Department of Education, Department of Health and the National Anti-Poverty Commission, among others) and NGOs agreed that times are changing and old solutions are not enough to address the problem of teen pregnancy. Instead a collective effort across all groups was called for.

Sinusuportahan ko ang RH Bill dahil ito ay karapatan. Maninindigan at di matitinag ang NAPC na suportahan ang pagsasabatas nito,” said National Anti-Poverty Commission Undersecretary (NAPC) Florencia Dorotan. (I will support the RH Bill because it is a right. The support of the NAPC will not waiver and we will see to it that this bill is passed.)

“It’s time to have a national conversation about the issue of teen pregnancy,” said Percival Cendaña, NYC Commissioner-at-Large. “Tama na ang pagbulung-bulungan sa mga sulok sulok ng pagbubuntis ng kabataan.” (Enough of the whispering in corners about teen pregnancy.)

“Across all sectors, classes and even agencies—DSWD, DepEd, DOH, TESDA and UNFPA, rising teen pregnancy was identified as a major ASRH (adolescent reproductive health) issue. And we need an urgent response to this issue,” stressed Cendaña.

Speaking to the estimated 600-plus who attended the summit, Cendaña said, “But all is not lost. The many people in this room who are here today to discuss this issue and possible solutions show that there is hope.” –

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