By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
In time for the world celebration of International Day of the Girl Child on Friday, Save the Children Philippines called for the passage of the teenage pregnancy bill to address the steady rise of pregnancy among girls aged 10-19 years old who face health risks and death – among others.
Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Albert Muyot called for the enactment of the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Bill pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives that provides adolescents access to appropriate reproductive health services, gives training to teachers and parents on how to discuss sexuality education with children.
“Early pregnancy forces girls to grow up quickly, while their bodies are often not ready for child-bearing, leading to potential complications,” he said.
Muyot, a former undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), explained that “early pregnancy can also trap girls in an escapable cycle of poverty, stigmatized by society for being teenage mothers or forced into early marriage.”
Thus, the proposed bill will be very beneficial for them since it will also provide social protection programs for teenage mothers, including maternal health services, workshops, and livelihood, among others.
The International Day of the Girl Child, as declared by the United Nations, is celebrated every October 11. It aims to highlight the situation of girls across the world who face discrimination and gender-based violence.
Effective sexuality education
Save the Children Philippines also expressed support to the DepEd for the “effective roll-out” of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in all public and private schools “to give adolescents accurate information on reproductive health.”
Muyot noted that teachers, parents and health workers “should have the right communication approach to teach adolescents on sexuality and reproductive health.”
Recently, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) declared teenage pregnancy as a “national social emergency” after the number of births from teenage mothers aged 15-19 increased by 12 percent, reaching 196,478 in 2017 from 172,269 in 2007. Of this figure, babies born from young girls aged 10-14 has more than doubled over the same period at 2,077 from 1,013.
“We believe that we can work together in addressing the gap for girls and help them make informed choices, have access to health care services and ensure girls enjoy their right to a childhood that nurtures their development,” Muyot said.
Meanwhile, Save the Children’s Global Childhood Report – which was released on June 2019 – showed that “teenage pregnancy affects 5.99 percent of Filipino girls” which is the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia, next to Laos. “This means that this year alone, we will have an estimated 300,000 teenage mothers who have either give birth or have already done so,” Save the Children Philippines said.
Continued education, support
For Muyot, girls who get pregnant while enrolled in schools “should be given the chance to continue education” through DepEd’s alternative delivery mode.
“Early pregnancy disrupts childhood, perpetuates poverty while putting the lives of young mothers and babies at risk due to poor health and complications,” Muyot explained.
For Dr. Miel Nora, Adolescent Sexuality and Reproductive Health Advisor for Save the Children, “there is no single cause for the rising rate of teenage pregnancy, but rather a combination of factors ranging from biological, social, and cultural.”
Nora also cited the factors including the following, but are not limited to (1) early sexual debut; (2) lack of access to comprehensive sex information and education; (3) Parents, who are identified by adolescents as one of their preferred source of information on Sexual Reproductive Health information have limited communication skills; (4) lack of access to family planning services; (5) cultural practices of early union; and (6) lack of ASRH policies and its full-implementation.
Nora also noted that community leaders – particularly in areas where teenage pregnancy cases are high – should “establish adolescent-friendly health centers where young girls can safely report cases of alleged abuse or forced marriage with the guarantee that they will be protected.”
In a 2017 baseline study conducted by Save the Children Philippines shows that Very Young Adolescent (VYA) or those 10-14 preferred mothers, as the source of information on reproductive health. However, the study revealed that parents, most especially the mothers do not have the correct information and skills on adolescent sexuality and reproductive health (ASRH) to share with their children.
Due to this, Save the Children Philippines launched a program entitled, “Healthy, Empowered and Responsible Teens” or “HEART to Heart” in an effort to build skills of parents to teach sexuality reproductive health to their young adolescent children to prevent teenage pregnancy.