[OPINION | Dash of SAS] Rape, incest and inequality – the other reasons for teen pregnancies


 Twenty-four babies are born to teenage girls every hour. 

Over 200,000 babies are born to teenage girls each year. That number has stayed at that level since 2010. 

An estimated 2,000 girls between 10 and 14 years old become pregnant.  

The numbers behind the Philippines having one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the Asia Pacific region don’t lie. 

But they only tell half the story.

Compounding the problem of teen pregnancy are multiple or repeat teen pregnancies. The Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) estimates that there are around 30,000 girls who have had more than one child before the age of 20.  

Additionallly, pregnancies among girls between the ages of 10 and 15 are usually results of acts of sexual violence. A Rappler investigative report entitled Rape Within The Family: The Philippines’ Silent Incest Problem pegged the incest rate in the country at 33%. This number is likely underreported as many cases of incest are not brought to the attention of the authorities. 

PopCom statistics show that 15% of girls who had sex before the age of 15 reported that their first encounter was coerced.  

By legal definition, even with the Philippines having one of the lowest age of consent in the world at 12, all cases of pregnancy among girls 11 and below automatically qualify as rape. (READ: Dash of SAS: 12 vs. 18: The age of consent

A public health doctor at a teen health clinic in Cavite I spoke with confirmed that most of the very young pregnant girls they assist in their clinic are victims of incest or rape.

Teen pregnancy is an inequality issue

One of the two biggest tragedies about teen pregnancy is that its highest incidence is among poor girls. On the average, the poorest Filipino women have 5 children when they actually only want or can afford 3. In contrast, women in higher income brackets can control child bearing and limit the number of children they have according to their life plans and goals. 

The other tragedy is that teen pregnancy is preventable. The public health catastrophe that we see now is a result of years of government inaction and haphazard and band-aid measures like abstinence-only education and preposterous suggestions, like putting boys and girls in separate classrooms – as if it is in classrooms where boys and girls have sex. 

This is all exacerbated by the chronic problems that plague our public health care system, like stock-outs of reproductive health supplies, absent health care workers, remote health care centers, and the limitations of the Reproductive Health Law (RH Law), which prohibits minors from accessing free reproductive health services at government clinics without parental consent. 

We have tried everything except what will actually work: sex education and access to a complete array of birth control methods – not only natural family planning methods sanctioned by the Church.

We need to teach young people what they need to know about the emotional and health risks involved with having sex, and then give them the tools to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

Sex Ed isn’t only about what body part goes where. It is about teaching boundaries and protecting those boundaries by distinguishing between a good touch and a bad touch, telling both boys and girls what constitutes consent, and about healthy relationships. Sex Ed is so much more than preventing unplanned pregnancy. It is also about body integrity and self-worth.  

Research study after research study across the world shows that when young people are given comprehensive sexuality education, they will – of their own volition – decide to delay sex, and when they do choose to engage in sex, are more likely to use protection. 

The RH Law passed in 2012 mandates that comprehensive sexuality education is taught in schools. The 7 years that have passed are more than enough time for the Department of Education to uphold its mandate, but until now the DepEd continues to pay lip service to incorporating Sex Ed in school curriculum.

Children should not be having children  

Preventing teen pregnancy is not a matter of moral debate or public opinion.  

Children should NOT be having children. 

Recently, the PopCom and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) called on President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an executive order declaring adolescent pregnancy a national emergency.  

PLCPD also emphasized the need for the DepEd to implement its comprehensive sexuality education program.

“Nananawagan kami sa DepEd na ipatupad and kaytagal nang nabinbing Comprehensive Sexuality Education,” said Rom Dongeto, executive director of the PLCPD. (We call on the DepEd to implement the Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which has been stalled for so long.)

Dongeto also called for the passage of Teen Pregancy Prevention Act authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros. The bill maps out intersectional interventions to address the complex issue of teen pregnancy, like mandating sex education in private and public schools with complementary interventions for out-of-school youth, social protection, and livelihood programs for teen moms, and legal assistance for teen mothers who were victims of sexual violence.  

Managing your fertility – choosing when to have children, how many, or choosing not to have any at all – is crucial to planning your future and uplifiting your status in life. An unintended pregnancy gets in the way of completing your education, getting a job, and alters the trajectory of your life. 

There is also the host of health problems that a teenager exposes herself to because her body has not yet developed enough to carry a pregnancy. 

The DepEd has linked the spike in school dropout rates to early pregnancy. Over half of the 2.9 million young people who dropped out of school were girls who were “forced into marriage or family matters.” Statistics show that a teen mother who does not finish school will earn less over her lifetime. The economic cost of teen pregnancy is about P33 billion in potential earnings lost over the lifetime of teen mothers.

The alarm on teen pregnancy has been ringing for years.

Until we give adolescent pregnancy the urgency it deserves, we will continue to compromise the future of our young people and consequently, our future as a nation. – Rappler.com 

Ana P. Santos writes about sexuality and gender issues. She is the Pulitzer Center’s 2014 Miel Fellow and a 2018 Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity in Southeast Asia. Follow her on Twitter on at @iamAnaSantos and on Facebook at SexAndSensibilities.com.