Let’s talk about sex

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Anke Reiffenstuel - The Philippine Star

My daughter is a law student. Ever since her early school days, she was dreaming of becoming a lawyer. Supporting her in making this dream come true has been the biggest joy for me since my children were born. I am convinced that the best and most important thing you can give children is a bright future.

However, the reality is different for thousands of girls here in the Philippines who get pregnant as a teenager. It is a concerning fact that the adolescent birth rate of around 5.4 percent in the Philippines still exceeds the ASEAN and Asia Pacific average. Even if the latest statistics indicate a commendable decrease, there is more to be done to sustain the positive trend and to not lapse back into what then-socio-economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia called in 2019 “a national social emergency” in the Philippines.

Every single day, more than 155 teenage girls are getting pregnant and give birth here in the Philippines! The vast amount of these teenagers did not plan to become a mother at such a young age. At the same time, out of all these births, only 3 percent are fathered by men of the same age group. Early pregnancies usually go hand in hand with school or college drop-out, thus immensely limiting the economic opportunities for mother and child. Consequently, this deprives young families of the future they had dreamt of. At the same time, studies show that the percentage of teenage pregnancy decreases as educational attainment increases. Teenage pregnancies are an important factor that keeps women financially dependent and locked in poverty.

For that reason, it is necessary that women empowerment encompasses economic empowerment. Last year, the German embassy funded a project of the People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation, which contributed to women empowerment by educating young indigenous women and girls on issues like gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights. This was achieved by providing them with skills and means for them to earn a livelihood through organic farming.

Moreover, Germany supported an initiative implemented by the Medical Action Group in cooperation with Kindernothilfe that has addressed teenage pregnancies in the Philippines. This six-year project, which ended in 2021, has succeeded in reducing the number of teenage pregnancies in Eastern Samar by raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health and by providing health care services and information.

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 that was adopted more than a decade ago is an important milestone to address the problem of unplanned teenage pregnancies. The law guarantees universal access to contraception, sexuality education and maternal care. The sad reality is that it still seems to be a long way until the full implementation of this law. The sad reality also is that thousands of women and girls have little or no choice about their sexual and reproductive health. Lack of access to information contributes to a low awareness of sexual and reproductive rights among the affected group. Poverty, gender inequality, sex trafficking, gender-based violence as well as child, early and forced marriage limits control over sexual health choices.

In 2021, Executive Order No. 141 was passed, addressing the issue of teenage pregnancy by – among other measures – enforcing comprehensive sex education programs and other reproductive health services. However, the proposed respective law on teenage pregnancy that calls for comprehensive, age-adequate education on sexual and reproductive health, social protection programs for adolescent mothers and other measures has been stalled due to opposition by certain groups, and due to the national elections of 2022.

Since President Marcos Jr. has made economic progress and modernization the top priority of the government, I am confident that political will and commitment will lead to much needed breakthrough in this issue. It is more than obvious that there is a close relation between high teenage pregnancy rates and slow economic progress and development of country and society. The economic cost, or rather losses, of this alarming situation reaches billions of pesos every year.

Don’t get me wrong: having children is a blessing – I have three children myself. But we must not forget that children have a right to self-determination and education, not least in order to take informed decisions about their future. Pregnancy should be an educated and informed choice, not forced upon, destroying dreams and futures of teenage girls in the Philippines.

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Anke Reiffenstuel is the Ambassador of Germany to the Philippines.


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