PopCom to Duterte: Declare teenage pregnancy as national emergency

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) called on President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, October 23, to issue an executive order declaring adolescent pregnancy a national emergency, as incident rates remain alarming.

PopCom reported that about 1.2 million children had children over a 10-year period. Around 30,000 of these young mothers have experienced repeated pregnancies, which PopCom Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III dubs the even larger emergency.

“This issue affects the very essence of the country’s development, because the state of young people today will affect the state of our collective future,” he said in a conference on Wednesday.

Teenage pregnancy causes P33 billion in economic losses, and curbing it would lead to national development, said Perez III.

While Perez said some local government units (LGUs) extend some forms of support for adolescent parents, there is currently no organized system of social protection for teen mothers. He said there are around 150,000 adolescent-led families that lack the support they need, despite the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law in 2012.

“Most of our laws are already there, but we fail at implementation. It is a matter of political will,” said Perez.

Studies show that early pregnancy is a rampant cause of dropping out of school, and lessens chances of poor adolescent-led families to escape poverty.

PopCom said that while the highest levels of pre-marital sex are recorded in the National Capital Region, teenagers in rural areas are getting pregnant slightly earlier than those living in urban areas.

The 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey revealed that rates of teen pregnancy in Mindanao had gone up to almost double the national average. Perez cites a concrete example of the Marawi siege, where disruption of social services occurred amid conflict and displacement.

Bills for institutionalized action

There are bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate that seek to address adolescent pregnancies in the Philippines. (READ: Health experts push for PH policy on teenage pregnancy)

In the 17th Congress, the Senate version of the bill, authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros, passed the 3rd reading while its counterpart did not even reach the House plenary for sponsorship. The bill was refiled for the 18th Congress by representatives Sol Aragones (3rd District, Laguna) and Edcel Lagman (1st District, Albay). 

The PopCom and Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) recommend work on the establishment of comprehensive sexuality education to connect schools with providers of reproductive healthcare.

In an interview with Manila Bulletin, Education Secretary Leonor Briones expressed the need to instill knowledge on sex education for the youth to make more informed choices. She has also rebuked schools who kick out pregnant girls.

Problematic Supreme Court decision

In 2014, the Supreme Court (SC) struck down a provision in the RH Law that indicates minors could obtain reproductive health services without parental consent. House representatives insisted however that the struck-down provisions do not diminish the law as a whole.

For some, asking parents’ permission to obtain contraceptives is simply unrealistic. Jona Turalde from SheDecides Philippines said that young people having sex is a reality, and that pleasure-based information campaigns may be one way to promote smart RH choices.

PLCPD Executive Director Rom Dongeto believes that if only comprehensive sex education were rolled out, and LGUs understood that adolescent pregnancies may also result from abuse, the statistics would be different today. – Rappler.com

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to the figure 1.2 million as children having children every year. The figure is the total over a 10-year period. We regret the error.

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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