MANILA, Philippines – Imagine this: Every day, 5 girls aged 10 to 14 become pregnant or give birth in the Philippines.
Commission on Population (PopCom) Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III said they saw in recent years a rise in the number of teenage pregnancies in the country – from 1,700 cases in 2014 to 1,986 cases in 2015.
According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in the Philippines Klaus Beck, teenage pregnancy remains a challenge here despite the country's "already strong support for family planning."
On July 11 or World Population Day, both Perez and Beck pushed for the enactment of bills in Congress on a national policy tackling the issue of teenage pregnancy in the Philippines.
"What are the implications of becoming a mother early in life?" Beck asked in his speech during PopCom and UNFPA's World Population Day program held in Quezon City on Tuesday.
"It deprives a girl of the opportunity to enjoy the life of a teenager, free from any responsibilities other than taking care of her body and her future. Because of the need to give care to her child, an adolescent mother may have to stop schooling and consequently find herself in a difficult position to land a good job," Beck said.
He added: "Teenage pregnancy, therefore, robs a girl of a better future not only for herself but also for her children. This must be addressed. Not by moralizing and telling young people not to have sex, but by coming together around empowering young people to make informed decision about their lives."
Beck then said it is encouraging that lawmakers in the Philippines want to enact a measure on teenage pregnancy. He urged other lawmakers to also work towards the enactment of HB 4742 and SB 1482.
According to Perez, these bills hope to address "both ends" – preventing teenage pregnancy, and supporting teenagers who are already mothers.
HB 4742 was already approved at the House committee level, but SB 1482 is still pending before the Senate committee on health and demography.
Since both bills are still pending in Congress, Perez and Beck emphasized for now the importance of comprehensive sexuality education in preventing teenage pregnancies.
"It is comprehensive sexuality education that will reduce teenage pregnancy, but at the same time we have to make sure that those who need the service get it at the right time," Perez told reporters after Tuesday's program.
Perez said PopCom is already coordinating with schools and health centers to establish an information and service delivery network.
"What we're doing is, the schools will be the center for information. Now if there are young people with sexually transmitted diseases who become pregnant despite all their efforts, they will be referred to the health center," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Perez gave an assurance that a referral network will be there, although minors are still not allowed to access family planning services without the consent of their parents.
PopCom is also working for the prevention of "repeat" teenage pregnancies.
"Kunwari, teenager ka, 11 years old ka nabuntis ka na, we will make every effort na hindi na maulit 'yun by providing services through social welfare, through health, actually, through the family. So kailangan natin dito 'yung cooperation ng mga magulang nung batang ina," Perez explained.
(For example, you're a teenager, you're 11 years old and you got pregnant, we will make every effort to help you not repeat teenage pregnancy by providing services through social welfare, through health, actually, through the family. So we need here the cooperation of the parents of the teenage mother.)
To do this, Perez said other government agencies and not just the health department will have to come on board and help. – Rappler.com
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.