Reproductive Health

Duterte declares teen pregnancy prevention a national priority

Michelle Abad

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The Sangguniang Kabataan or youth councils are encouraged to develop their own educational efforts, and 'normalize respectful dialogue' on sexual and reproductive health

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, June 25, signed an executive order (EO) declaring the prevention of teenage pregnancies a national priority in the Philippines.

In EO 141, Duterte said the state acknowledges that what causes teen pregnancy are “endangered patterns of discrimination, deep-seated norms and attitudes that normalize and justify violence against women and children, lack of information and education, and the vulnerability and exclusion of women and children living in remote and rural areas.”

The state recognized that it must “carefully coordinate, rationalize, monitor, and assess the efforts of concerned government agencies” in reducing the number of young girls giving birth.

The EO was published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday, June 29, with immediate effectivity.

Duterte pushed the government’s Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster to identify and implement interventions such as comprehensive sexuality education, employment opportunities, and health promotion.

The Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) had called on the President in October 2019 to declare teen pregnancy as a national emergency. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the PopCom has been sounding the alarm that the youth are at higher risk of unwanted pregnancies due to prolonged lockdowns.

In 2019, the PopCom recorded that 2,411 girls aged 10 to 14 gave birth, which translates to almost seven girls every day. The number tripled from the year 2000, when 755 girls from the same age group had babies.

A November 2020 Social Weather Stations survey found that teenage pregnancy is the “most important problem” that women in the Philippines faced.

Mobilizing community

Under the new EO, Duterte puts government youth councils or the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) front and center. SKs are encouraged to develop their own anti-teen pregnancy policies and support adolescent mothers.

Their responsibilities include:

  • educating the youth about sexual and reproductive health, even in non-formal education settings, and normalizing respectful dialogue on the topic
  • providing rights-based measures to help pregnant girls and young mothers continue and finish their education
  • creating vocational training opportunities
  • following up on young mothers who dropped out of school
  • ensuring functionality of anti-violence against women and children desks in barangays.

The National Youth Commission is also compelled to foster continuous dialogue between the government and the youth on the “proper” planning and evaluation of policies and programs designed to cater to the sector.

The PopCom, meanwhile, is required to continue educating leaders, parents and other community members about “evidence-based strategies to reduce, if not eliminate, adolescent pregnancy, and improve adolescent reproductive health.”

Through the EO, anti-teenage pregnancy policies are now also a budget priority. The funds needed to implement the EO will be taken from the gender and development budgets of concerned agencies. The budget department may also find additional sources to fund the programs when needed.

PopCom Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III said the EO manifests the government’s “deep concern for the most vulnerable during this pandemic.”

Comprehensive sexuality education has been mandated by the government since the reproductive health (RH) law was signed in 2012. However, advocates have said that this has yet to be rolled out uniformly across the country.

The coronavirus pandemic also hampered access to sexual and reproductive health services, most especially for young people. Based on the RH law, minors can access birth control in government health facilities only if they have permission from their parents.

Young women have also battled stigma in accessing reproductive health information and services, more so when they already get pregnant after being denied this assistance. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.