The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Philippines recently commended the House of Representatives Committee on Youth and Sports Development for recently approving a bill that addresses adolescent pregnancy in the country.
“UNFPA Philippines appreciates the recent progress of the adolescent pregnancy bill at the House of Representatives since teenage pregnancy was already declared a national social emergency. UNFPA supports the pursuance of legislation that would expand the choices of adolescents to sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination,” said UNFPA Philippines Country Representative Dr. Leila Saiji Joudane, who previously served as a resource person for the deliberation of the bill.
Furthermore, Joudane said UNFPA has also been closely monitoring a counterpart bill at the Senate which is awaiting plenary discussion.
“Adolescent pregnancy is one of the biggest challenges that the Filipino youth are facing today. UNFPA looks forward seeing the adolescent pregnancy bill approved by both chambers of Congress and enacted into law,” Joudane noted.
“Early and unintended pregnancy has great repercussions on a young person’s health and future,” she added, explaining that it is often the reason for adolescents to drop out of school and being unable to secure jobs with adequate pay.
Highest adolescent birth rate
Although adolescent pregnancy among those 15 to 19 years old has decreased to 7.2 percent in 2021 from 14.4 percent in 2013, Joudane pointed out that the Philippines still has one of the highest adolescent birth rates among ASEAN countries. The number of births by mothers aged 10 to 14 years has also shown a slight increase (1,903 in 2016 and 2,113 in 2020 according to the Philippine Statistics Authority).
“This also means that the Philippines is losing out on the opportunity of accelerated economic growth that we could achieve if the Filipino youth are able to reach their full potential,” Joudane said, adding that one out of three people in the Philippines are below 18 years old.
The UN agency also highlighted an alarming trend: that 59.5 percent of adolescent births were fathered by adult men older than 20 years old. Because of this, “It is important that the Filipino youth are empowered and educated when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. They should be protected from all forms of violence and harmful practices such as sexual exploitation,” the UNFPA country representative said.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education
Among the recommendations previously presented by UNFPA Philippines to both chambers of Congress during the deliberation of the adolescent pregnancy bill is the accelerated provision of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for all children and adolescents. An initial report from the Department of Education last January 2023 showed that only around 1.1 million learners or about 3.4 percent of the estimated 32 million young Filipinos aged five to 19 years old were reported to receive CSE.
She said UNFPA also called for adolescent access to sexual and reproductive health services without parental consent. “The Philippines’ unmet need for family planning among young women aged 15 to 19 (27.9 percent) is significantly higher than any other age group. It means that adolescent girls are already in need of family planning and requesting for family planning, but they cannot have access to family planning,” Joudane said.
Since there is no evidence, Dr. Joudane debunked the myth that access to contraception makes adolescents more sexually active.
“There are global reports showing data that prove that the ‘abstinence-only’ approach is ineffective and programs that combine a focus on delaying sexual initiation with proper information on contraceptive use are more successful,” she said. “That is why it is important to accelerate the roll out of CSE nationally, to provide correct information to adolescents which will allow them to make informed and responsible decisions on their health.”
Harmful stereotypes, social barriers
Besides ensuring access to quality sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents as part of the Universal Health Care Law, UNFPA also recommended addressing harmful stereotypes and social barriers that push adolescents, especially girls, into early unions and pregnancy.
Other recommendations included addressing the needs of vulnerable groups; engaging youth, especially boys; protecting youth against poverty, child marriage and rape; providing opportunities for adolescents and young mothers; and generating more data and evidence on adolescent pregnancy in the Philippines.
Joudane said having laws that uphold the rights of adolescents, especially girls, are in accordance with key human rights treaties ratified by the Philippines, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Globally, UNFPA is promoting commitments to achieving three transformational goals by 2030: ending preventable maternal deaths, ending unmet need for family planning, and ending gender-based violence and other harmful practices against women and girls including child marriage.
In the Philippines, UNFPA works with the government, civil society, development partners, other UN agencies, academe, and the private sector to reach those furthest behind first and leave no one behind, especially young people, the poorest, the conflict and disaster-affected, indigenous peoples and people with disabilities.