CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Naomi was raped by a neighbor when she was only 14 years old. Now, at 15, she is left to care for a baby borne out of the crime while her abuser remains at large.
Sheila, whose real name is also withheld, experimented with her boyfriend after watching online videos, resulting in them living together and juggling the responsibilities of parenthood while still in high school.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Grace, whose real identity is also protected, engaged in risky behavior with her neighbor after online flirting, leading to a pregnancy without any knowledge of contraception.
All three, who have been forced into motherhood at a young age due to different circumstances, are among 35 adolescent parents being taken care of by social workers in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, under the government’s Project Protecteen.
The social welfare department data showed that as of August 2022, Bukidnon registered the highest prevalence of teenage pregnancy at 4,988, followed by Misamis Oriental with 2,299, while Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Occidental, and Lanao del Norte recorded 1,745, 1,333, and 1,243 cases, respectively.
Meanwhile, Iligan and Camiguin had the lowest numbers of teenage mothers at 657 and 160, respectively.
The Protecteen Project, developed by the Social Technology Unit of the social welfare department, in collaboration with the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), is an initiative designed to support teenage mothers, promote their psychosocial well-being, raise awareness about reproductive health, and facilitate access to social protection measures.
While the project was launched on August 10, 2022, the pilot phase commenced on Monday, March 6, with Jelie Barceta from the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Central Office leading the Protecteen Project team to provide psychosocial support to teenage mothers in Malaybalay City.
Barceta ssid the project is a platform that promotes an enabling environment for young parents by increasing their awareness of parenting responsibilities, helping them fulfill developmental tasks, cope with parenting demands, and perform their social roles.
The first batch of teenage mothers, aged 10 to 19 years, will undergo a five-day psychosocial intervention with the assistance of the DSWD’s Northern Mindanao field office and the Malaybalay city government’s trained implementers.
Jeizha Rae Rebuta, a social worker from DSWD-10’s Social Technology Unit, said the project’s pilot testing period started last August and will run until to June. After the pilot testing period, the project will be evaluated to determine whether it should become a regular departmental service.
Rebuta said the project follows a rigorous set of criteria for selecting pilot areas, which is why it took time to commence the actual face-to-face intervention with teenage mothers.
The criteria include a high incidence or prevalence of adolescent pregnancy in the area, the willingness of the local government to implement the project and carry out the expected deliverables, and the availability of adolescent sexual and reproductive health services in the area.
Meanwhile, Rebuta attributed the high incidence of teenage pregnancy in the region to the prevalence of social media sites and unguided access to them, which can have adverse consequences for teenagers who access sites that they are not yet permitted to use.
“We all know that social media has good and bad effects. Teenagers who can access sites that they are not supposed to access yet at their age can lead to dire consequences,” she said.
DSWD-10 assistant director for operations Ronald Ryan Cui was optimistic that the project would help young mothers improve their ability to fulfill their social and parenting responsibilities.
“Let the healing begin,” Cui said. – Rappler.com
Cong Corrales is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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