The National Youth Commission, supported by the Department of Health and the World Health Organization, convened the 2014 National Summit on Teen Pregnancy last April 24. This summit, which saw the active participation of adolescent youth, delivered a clear message: Adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH), or the lack thereof, is fast becoming the defining issue of this generation of young Filipinos. Without a robust response from all stakeholders, the Philippines is on track toward a full-blown, national teenage pregnancy crisis.
Staggering facts support this call for concern. Recent (2014) data from the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA) reveal that every hour, 24 babies are delivered by teenage mothers. According to the 2014 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS) study, around 14 percent of Filipino girls aged 15 to 19 are either pregnant for the first time or are already mothers—more than twice the rate recorded in 2002. Among six major economies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Philippines has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies and is the only country where the rate is increasing, per the United Nations Population Fund.
According to Josefina Natividad, YAFS coordinator and director of the University of the Philippines Population Institute, young Filipinos have limited access to sex education and ASRH services, especially if they are underage and unmarried. Seventy-eight percent are not using any form of contraception or protection against sexually transmitted diseases and infections when they are having sex for the first time. While government programs aim to delay the beginning of childbearing and hasten fertility decline, teenage pregnancies continue to increase. Perhaps it is really time for a new and more collaborative strategy?
Data show that pregnant teenagers in the Philippines are mostly 17 to 19 years old. They live with their mothers, parents, or relatives. The father of the child is, in most cases, a teenage boy.
Reasons for becoming pregnant among teenagers include: unplanned sexual encounters (“getting caught up in the moment”) and peer pressure; lack of information on safe sex; breakdown of family life and lack of good female role models in the family; and absence of accessible, adolescent-friendly clinics.
Teenagers from poor backgrounds are disproportionately represented among pregnant teenagers. However, experts have argued that teenage pregnancy should be understood as a symptom of dire economic conditions rather than a cause of it. Teenage pregnancy perpetuates the cycle of poverty and inequality because most pregnant teenagers have no source of income and face greater financial difficulties later in life. This is because they drop out of school and are less likely to pursue further education or skills training.
Teenage mothers face critical health risks, including: inadequate nutrition during pregnancy due to poor eating habits; dangers associated with the reproductive organs not ready for birth; and maternal death due to higher risk of eclampsia, among others.
Alarmingly, while maternal deaths are decreasing in the Philippines, teenage maternal deaths are increasing. Ten percent of pregnant teenagers died in the last year, according to the PSA. Data from the WHO also show a high and increasing incidence of fetal death in Filipino mothers under 20.
Article prepared by Marc Rosenberg