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Over the last five years, babies born to teenage mothers in the Philippines increased from 39 per 1,000 live births to 54, prompting calls from various sectors to look at the gaps in services for young people who want to prevent early and unwanted pregnancies.
The 2011 Family Health Survey shows that while childbearing is decreasing among women 25 years old and up, it is increasing among the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups.
Dr. Sylvia Claudio, Director of the UP Women’s Study Center, said during a recent roundtable discussion on adolescent reproductive health that in a country where one in every 10 teenagers aged 15-19 will have given birth to their first child, the best thing to do is to arm them with knowledge.
Lack of information and education on their bodies and how they can prevent unplanned pregnancies is a very common concern among young girls, especially those who come from poor families.
Take the cases of these three young pregnant girls from Tondo, Manila:
Maricris is three months pregnant with her first child. She got pregnant by accident by her 19-year-old boyfriend. They don’t live together because they don’t have the means yet. They still live with their respective families.
Maricris dreamt of becoming a teacher one day but she had to drop out of school after the seventh grade because the family could no longer afford her education. It’s the same story with her seven other siblings; none of them completed high school. Her father is a scavenger and has to feed 10 mouths.
She said she had heard of contraceptives before such as condoms and pills but didn’t know anything about them, including how to use them. Even if she and her boyfriend knew how to use them, she said they wouldn’t be able to afford them. But she now wished they knew better so that the accidental pregnancy had been avoided.
As she faces her pregnancy, Maricris knows she won’t be able to fulfil her dreams anymore because she will soon have the responsibility of raising her own child.
Similar to most stories of teenage pregnancies, Ericka, who is eight months on the way, said hers was also accident. She had heard about the pill from her mother, who used it for birth spacing, but thought contraceptives were only used by married couples.
Unlike most young girls, however, Ericka, plans to go back to college even after her baby comes. She reached first year in college but stopped going to school because of poverty.
Her 18-year-old boyfriend says they still have to talk about family planning when Ericka gives birth. But the girl has already decided. She says she will go on contraceptives to prevent another pregnancy soon. So she can also go back to school and finish college.
Only 14 and already five months pregnant, Jasmin is full of remorse. “This shouldn’t have happened,” she says, adding that she is not ready for the responsibility of being a parent.
Jasmin doesn’t know anything about pregnancies nor contraceptives. She also doesn’t know what she wants in life at all. Much as she tried to think hard about it, she couldn’t give an answer when asked what she aspires to be. “I just want a simple job,” was all she could say. At Grade 4, Jasmin dropped out of school because she got in trouble. She never thought of going back.
She confesses that everything she knows about relationships, she learned from friends. She started having boyfriends at the very young age of 9, saying “I believe that even young people can get into a serious relationship.” She says she has had 14 boyfriends since.
She is still staying with her parents and three siblings. Her 17-year-old boyfriend comes to visit her once in a while. Her family thrives on an average P300 a day selling rice cakes.
Jasmin admits she realized too late that girls her age should be in school, enjoying their adolescence, instead of nursing a baby. She knows she will have a hard time with the responsibility that’s why she is determined not to have another pregnancy soon. When asked, however, how she could prevent another pregnancy, she just gave a blank look.
National Summit on Teen Pregnancy
On 14 September 2012, the National Youth Commission (NYC), with the support of the United Nations Population Fund, convenes the Philippines’ first National Summit on Teen Pregnancy to identify strategies and programs for sustainable interventions on the rising number of teenage pregnancies.
The Summit is expected to create a strong advocacy campaign to raise awareness about the physical risks and social implications of teenage pregnancy and provide accurate information on reproductive health in general. This would help adolescents exercise responsible sexuality and empower them to make informed decisions to live a more meaningful and productive life.