MANILA, Philippines – Education Secretary Leonor Briones, who supports sex education in Philippine schools, rebuked institutions that kick out girls who get pregnant.
"We should also teach this: many children – teenagers who also get pregnant, especially under very unusual circumstances – are kicked out of school. And the stigma that is attached, that is what should be corrected, because sex education is already in the curriculum," Briones said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Briones on Thursday, August 4, revealed her education agenda as secretary. It includes enriching sex education in the curriculum and teaching it not only as part of science subjects.
She lamented that instead of understanding their students and helping them rebuild their lives, some schools either kick out pregnant students or do not accept them when they come back.
"In public schools, it may not be a policy to kick out students, but there are schools which automatically kick out children who get pregnant, and automatically also destroy their lives. And this is where the enrichment comes in. You have a right to go back to school, you have a right to be treated humanely," Briones added.
It is this "human rights component" which Briones said is missing in the country's sex education curriculum.
In a previous interview with Rappler, Briones also said she is for gender fairness and the protection of teenage girls amid the country's rising levels of teenage pregnancies.
Citing the 2013 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey, Briones' chief of staff Nepomuceno Malaluan said that 22.9% of the nearly 4 million out-of-school children and youth in the Philippines have entered into union or marriage.
"It's also highly correlated, the sex education mentioned by the Secretary, as well as teenage pregnancy and eventually entering marriage as the key reason for not [attending] school among children and youth, of which the female is disproportionately higher," he added.
The reproductive health (RH) law mandates public school to teach sex education, but the latest report on its implementation revealed the education department has not yet developed the minimum standards of comprehensive sexuality education that schools and other learning facilities should comply with.
According to Klaus Beck, the country representative of the United Nations Population Fund to the Philippines, comprehensive sexuality education in the country still "leaves something to be desired".
"Is it really happening? I don't think we have a very good sense of that, but our assumption would be that given we're seeing increase in teenage pregnancy, there is something that is not working well, because if it was working well, we would probably see the result. That's why we need to look more carefully at this particular piece," he told Rappler in July.
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.