(Photo used in composite image is from livestrong.com)

The Forum for Family Planning and Development or The Forum has urged the government to address the alarming increase in teenage pregnancy.

Benjamin de Leon, president of The Forum, an advocacy organization that helps educate communities on reproductive health and rights, said the reality of pregnancies among girls aged 15-19 is alarming, especially in localities where awareness and education about reproductive health is lacking.

“We work on the ground, and  the problem is real and worrisome,” De Leon said in a press statement sent to Palawan News.

He said their most recent face-to-face encounter was with a 10-year-old pregnant girl who was among those who have stopped schooling because they have started childbearing, a scenario that is worst 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, addressed the problem during a development summit last week, saying 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.”

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In the statement, he reportedly called 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.

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

In the 2017 NDHS, the numbers are dismal: every hour, 24 babies are born to teenagers; every day, 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 Statistics office reported that 12 percent or 210,000 of all deliveries recorded in the country belong to girls aged 10-19 years old.

The Forum statement said these grim figures put the Philippines as the third highest in Southeast Asia in adolescent fertility rate at 57 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19. In the period 2002 to 2013, pregnancies in this age group increased from 4.4% to 11%, which was a staggering 150% increase in only 10 years.

De Leon said 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.

With their condition, De Leon said both the young mother and her baby face a life-threatening situation. “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.”

Apart from death, he said the most common result 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.

De Leon, citing more data, said 1 of 3 Filipino youth has engaged in early sex and 78% of first sexual contact was unprotected against the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.

“Girls 10-19 years old make up 10% of the total population of females, which is slightly more than half of the country’s estimated 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 are empowered to make informed decisions, they hold tremendous opportunities to transform their lives,” De Leon said.

“We in the Forum choose the problem of teenage pregnancies as one of the challenges we face by addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of girls and women in the communities,” he said. “This is the real battle that must be won.”

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