Stop! teenage pregnancy
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2019 - 12:00am

Who’s afraid of teenagers becoming pregnant? We all are, if we listen to women’s rights advocates and reproductive health experts talking about the dangers of teenage pregnancy. If we study statistics showing how many young girls become premature mothers and how many deaths from lack of awareness of the problem.

Two weeks ago, the Zonta Club of Makati Ayala launched the #He4she Stop Teen Pregnancy and Early Marriage Campaign. Its objective is to educate students (ages 12-19) on the responsibilities and consequences of teen pre-marital sex.

The #HE4SHE Campaign runs for a whole year with the help of guidance counselors in partner schools, volunteer educators, and some DOH personnel. It is a relaunch by Zonta Makati Ayala of the UN Women’s global campaign to commit to gender equality and to respect “Safe Space” for women and girls.

Zonta International, founded in 1919, is a leading global organization of executives and professionals empowering women through service and advocacy. There are Zonta International clubs in 66 countries around the world with around 30,000 members. 

A member club, the Zonta Club Makati Ayala is a 30-year-old organization committed to uplift the status of women and girls. Zonta International requested District 17 to focus on eliminating/preventing Child Brides due to some practices in Asia, and eliminating/decreasing the high rate of teen pregnancy due to poverty and lack of sex education in the region. Reviewing past related programs of CZMA, the advocacy team under chair Lorna Kapunan, revived the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) where the men are asked to actively participate in the awareness and prevention campaign of women’s issues. The girls have had their seminars, symposia and endless warnings from family and friends. Lorna Kapunan, a well-known lawyer, said, “Reaching out to the boys and men will be a provocative paradigm shift. This is our advocacy project for the biennium. ZCMA’s battle cry is (therefore) “HE4SHE.”

The graveness of the teenage pregnancy situation is highlighted by Benjamin de Leon, president of The Forum, an advocacy organization that helps educate communities on reproductive health and rights. He says, “The reality of pregnancies among girls aged 15-19 is alarming especially in localities where awareness and education about reproductive health is lacking.”

He continues: “We work on the ground, and the problem is real and worrisome. Our most recent encounter was a 10-year-old pregnant girl. We come face-to--face with teen girls who have stopped schooling because they have started childbearing, and this scenario worsens in areas with poverty and lack of education.”

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, through a speech given on his behalf by Commission on Population Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III, said that teen pregnancies have become a “national social emergency” because the appalling rates of adolescent births in the last 10 years already merit “national concern.”

The 2017 National Demographic and Health survey (NDHS) conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority noted that 1 in 10 Filipino girls aged 15 to 19 have begun childbearing: 8 percent were already mothers and 2 percent were already pregnant with their first child. Three regions in Mindanao – Davao region, Northern Mindanao and Southwestern Mindanao – recorded the highest rates of teen pregnancies at 18 percent, 14.7 percent and 14.5 percent respectively – all above the 8.6 percent national average.

In the 2017 NDHS, said de Leon, the figures are alarming: every hour, 24 babies are born to teenagers; everyday, 500 babies are born to teen girls, and every year, 196,000 girls aged 15-19 get pregnant. Earlier in 2014, the Civil Registration and Vital Statistic office reported that 12 percent of 210,000 of all deliveries recorded in the country belong to girls aged 10-19 years old.

These appalling figures, according to de Leon, “put the Philippines as the third highest in Southeast Asia in adolescent fertility rate at 57 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. In the period 2002 to 2013, pregnancies in this age group increased from 4.4. percent to 11 percent, which is a staggering 150 percent increase in only 10 years.

De Leon says the problem is aggravated when the young mother, who is not yet fully educated about childbearing, becomes pregnant again without the benefit of proper birth spacing and is subjected anew to the increased risks of pre-term deliveries and low birth weight.

A further aggravation is when teenaged mothers become pregnant again, resulting in life-threatening situation for both the young mothers and their babies. “The bodies of adolescent and teen girls are not yet ready for the physical demands of childbearing. Their babies bear the burden of this unhealthy condition that can lead to infant mortality, as babies born to teen mothers have far lower survival rates,” says de Leon.

The most common result of such babies is stunting, a condition characterized by slow or impeded growth. Stunting occurs from the time of conception to the first two years of life, also called the “first 1,000 days,” that is caused by the poor nutritional status of mother and child.

Alarming  is the data showing that 1 of 3 Filipino youth has engaged in early sex and 78 percent of first sexual contact was not protected against the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.

According to de Leon, “Girls 10-19 years old make up 10 percent of the country’s 109 million population. They are at that age when they are having fun discovering and learning, but if they are educated with the correct information and skills, are healthy and empowered to make informed decisions, they hold tremendous opportunities to transform their lives.”

The Forum calls on lawmakers to craft a teenage pregnancy prevention bill in Congress that should be zealously pursued similar to the efforts that helped pass the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law.

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Again, my heartfelt thanks to friends wishing me the best on my birthday. My family’s long-time lawyer  in Gingoog City, Atty. Ben Guimong, sent a nice gift, as did Lalaine Alegado-Cezar, daughter of my best friend in high school, Flory Lambatan Alegado. My BFF in Dumaguete City, Aning Sy, sent another love gift (she’s always tendered a dinner party in my honor each time I spent my birthday at Silliman). And always to be remembered is the generosity of Nene Leonor, who gives a lavish bash for me when I am in Manila. 

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