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Baby Mommies

"The Truth about Teen Pregnancy in the Philippines"
By: Lourdes Nena A. Cabison-Carlos, MDBaby Mommies

“Whether your pregnancy was meticulously planned, medically coaxed, or happened by surprise, one thing is certain- your life will never be the same.” – Catherine Jones

Teenage pregnancy in the Philippines is a tricky subject. While everyone might know someone who is a teen mom, we don’t talk about it openly. Still, it is a subject that should be of national concern, something that the government has to address. Around the world, teen pregnancy rates have been declining for the past 2 decades except in the Philippines. In fact, our country tops the list of pregnancy rates among Asian countries, despite the common notion that we are a conservative and traditional country.

Philippine Data

In 2014, the Philippine Statistic Authority released the result of a survey on pregnancy and it is quite alarming. According to the data, one in five (19%) young adult Filipino women initiated sexual activity before 18 years of age. Moreover, one in ten Filipino women aged 15-19 has already begun childbearing. In addition, 8% of women in this age group are already mothers, while 2% are pregnant with their first child.

The survey also revealed that teenage pregnancy is more common in Caraga and Cagayan Valley. It is affected greatly by educational attainment (44% for women with elementary education vs. 21% for women who have a college education), wealth quintile and region. Aside from that, having multiple sexual partners at a young age, along with low condom use, a negative social attitude towards family planning or having no access to family planning services contribute greatly to this public health problem.

The Burden of Teen Pregnancy

Most people will think that the biggest burden associated with teen pregnancy is being an unwed teenage mother. In reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg and while it affects all, the mother, the father, and the child, our social setup puts more pressure on the teen mom. Teen mothers face the social stigma which may cause harmful emotional, physical and social impact. The following are just some of the repercussions of teen pregnancy:

  • Giving birth during teen years is linked to increased medical risk, as their bodies are still developing
  • It leads to increased dependence on grandparents for
    • financial support (majority of the time, teen moms are still in school)
    • child care (the kids are left in the care of grandparents)
    • health needs (hospitalizations related to childbirth, immunizations, etc.)
  • Teen mothers have high drop-out rates in school; US data show that only 38% of teens who give birth before 17 years eventually earn their high school diploma
  • Teen mothers usually achieve low educational attainment, thereby leading to fewer job opportunities. If ever they get hired, these jobs are usually low-paying
  • Studies have shown that children of teen moms are more likely to be teenage parents themselves, have low school achievement, high drop-out rate, prone to more health problems, prone to child abuse and neglect. In short, it results in a cycle that is difficult to arrest.

Ways to prevent teen pregnancy

Most parents are naturally anxious and scared of topics like sex and pregnancies. However, the role of the family, especially parents and guardians cannot be overemphasized. A strong family bond will result in an open environment which will allow healthy discussions on the changes and decisions these adolescents experience. Parents and guardians are encouraged to do the following:

  • Early delivery of age-appropriate sex education. Let’s be honest. Teens have the internet and everything is accessible with just one click or tap. To avoid coming across information that can lead them to make the wrong decisions, it’s better if parents can provide information and answer their questions first-hand.
  • Assist them in making decisions when it comes to dating and relationships, sexuality and sex.
    • Talk about sex. Be open and teach them what is appropriate. It may be awkward for you and your child at first, but you will eventually find a comfortable balance.
    • Guide them to have respectful and honest relationships. Teach them how to say “no” to peer pressure, how and when to say “no” to sex, and what to do when they are forced to have sex.
    • Be involved in your child’s activities. Know where your teens go and what they do after school.
    • Be aware of your child’s use of social media and digital technology. As we have said, everything is accessible on the Internet.
    • Be realistic. If and when they decide to be intimate with their partners, teach them to use birth control and condom every time they have sex.
    • If you are uncomfortable with talking with your child, have a trusted friend, relative or doctor to explain these to your teen.

What can health professionals do?

We’ve already established the effects of teenage pregnancy. While the figures are scary, according to the CDC, teenage pregnancy prevention is one of the top 7 “winnable” battles in public health.  When doctors see teenagers, they must provide confidential, respectful and culturally appropriate service. Clinic hours should be suitable for teens like after school hours, etc. They should open to discussing normal physical, sexual and emotional development with teens and parents.

Doctors should also encourage abstinence, or if not possible, delay sexual activity. For sexually active teenagers, they should be offered effective, reversible contraceptive methods and encourage them to use protection for every sexual encounter. Teenagers should be informed of the importance of preventing not only pregnancies but also STDs.

What can the government do?

The passage of the RH Bill is a big step forward for Filipinos. And recently, ads about the ABC campaign (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom Use) are now shown on television. However, we still have a lot of ground to cover. There should be proper implementation of the RH bill, even in far-flung areas and most especially in areas where there are high teen pregnancy rates. Efforts should also be made to improve the health and social well-being of teens and incorporate proper sex education in health classes. But of course, these will account for nothing if we don’t support efforts to reduce pregnancy.

While we like to think that teenagers are still our babies, we have to face the truth that they are growing up and starting to live their own lives. At this stage, teenagers like to explore and are very passionate. They need guidance, rather than us turning a blind eye or being in denial. Teenagers will be teenagers. And if ever we find our children caught in this situation, let us not be quick to judge, rather, be quicker to offer them support and guidance.

“There is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good one.” - Jill Churchill 

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