A research study undertaken by Roots of Health (ROH) in order to identify the risk factors impacting adolescent pregnancy found that young girls in Palawan are regularly exposed to non-consensual sexual activities.
The group undertook a two-part quantitative and qualitative research project in 2020 with the help of the EMpower’s Girls Fund initiative. To better understand the specific experiences of 119 respondents who have had adolescent pregnancies, an anonymous and self-administered survey was sent to them.
The respondents come from 30 urban and peri-urban barangays in Puerto Princesa City, and range in age from 15 to 24 years old.
During a virtual presentation of the study results on Friday, Danver Paalan, monitoring and evaluation manager, revealed that the majority of the respondents felt unprepared to begin having sex with their partners.
“The survey revealed that young girls in Palawan are frequently exposed to non-consensual sexual encounters,” Paalan said.
Only 8% of those surveyed claimed they were eager to participate in their first intercourse, while 60% were somewhat or somewhat willing or simply went with the flow. Some 33% of those queried said they felt compelled or very hesitant to participate in their first sexual encounter.
Paalan added 33% of quantitative survey respondents felt forced to have sex or otherwise commit a sexual act before their first pregnancy, and 20% felt intimidated into having sex prior to their first pregnancy.
The study’s goal, according to Marcus Swanepoel, deputy director of Roots of Health, is to get a deeper understanding of the problem of adolescent pregnancy. He said that the company wants to do something innovative with the data, such as influencing stakeholders to take action on their own.
“We have a lot of assumptions, anecdotal evidence but we really lack the deeper understanding of the situation of the environmental factors that lead to teenage pregnancy. To address that and better understand the girls that we are trying to help with programming, we decided that it would be best to get to know them and their situations better,” he said.
The organization cited that nine percent of Filipino women aged 15 to 19 have started childbearing in the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey. Seven percent of the women were already mothers, and another two percent were expecting their first child. Over 180,000 Filipino females between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year.
The findings of the study showed that a lack of support from parents, relatives, and wider social support networks significantly raises the chance of unintended pregnancy.
Around 71 percent of respondents said they had financial assistance, while just 59 percent said they have physical help, 52 percent said they have emotional support, and 42 percent said they have spiritual support.
Some of the participants found more support from their friends or siblings.
“This neglect also stemmed from lack of support following separation or death of a loved one. Some of the girls reported leaning on their partners or sexual partners more because of feelings of loneliness and isolation,” Paalan said.
Several respondents indicated that they became pregnant or started a family due to a major lack of support from their families. If not addressed, even prior traumas suffered by girls and young women from their father, family, or lover might play a role if not addressed.
The trauma could be a form of verbal, mental, emotional, sexual, and even physical abuse. Paalan said, citing mental health research, that therapy and support are needed for girls to overcome the trauma experienced as it could lead to the risk of entering or staying in an abusive relationship.
“The data that showed that girls who have experienced trauma may be more at risk of developing sexual relationship earlier and they have less ability to decline unprotected sex even if they not feel comfortable in engaging in it,” he added.
The respondents shared having abusive partners which revealed an unequal power dynamic within adolescent relationships. It influenced the ‘help-seeking behavior’ of young girls.
The responses showed that 68 percent that their male partners prevented them from practicing pregnancy prevention. Several participants shared that secretly sought out contraception in fear of getting pregnant but only ruined or taken away by their partners.
“The male partners often refuse contraception use in their relationship which generates a significant barrier in the adolescent girl, seeking any form of reproductive health services. Included but not limited to contraception,” he said.
Very low knowledge in contraception
The Roots of Health found out that the limited contraceptive knowledge demonstrated in the quantitative survey and discussed throughout qualitative interviews underscores the urgent need for accurate sex education.
Accurate sex education includes a variety of contraception uses and how they will be accessed.
“Unfortunately, (what) participants received was highly limited,” Ariel Joseph Amatorio, monitoring, and evaluation officer said.
Around 53 percent of the participants believe that natural family planning is an effective means of pregnancy prevention. Participants rarely reported using effective contraception during sex. Many girls did not start using contraception even after their pregnancy, Amatorio added.
The findings showed that family members often equate pregnancy with entering into a relationship or marriage and did not discuss contraceptive methods to prevent repeat pregnancy.
Barriers in accessing health services
Respondents said that they experienced barriers in accessing health services before, during, and after their pregnancies. The services like contraception and family counseling are effective tools to prevent adolescent pregnancy, Amatorio said.
“However, the interviews revealed that very few adolescents accessed these health services before they got pregnant,” he said.
The primary reason that the respondents shared about why they did not ask for these health services were pressure against seeking reproductive health services, fear of judgment in health centers, lack of knowledge, time and distance barriers, and inability to pay for services.
During their pregnancy, 42 percent of the respondents said they were bullied by others, with family and neighbors being the most common sources of bullying.
Some 20 percent were bullied by their classmates while at school during their pregnancy and 30 percent of students reported having been shamed by their teacher.
Girls’ Advisory Council suggestion
The organization gathered a group of girls who experienced teenage pregnancy during the start of the research to serve as council and stirring committee. The council helped in the development of the surveys and provided input for the program recommendations.
One of the recommendations is for the Department of Education (DepEd) to give educators training on management problems with early pregnancy, address partner abuse, and assist adolescents in developing self-esteem.
They also advocated for the expansion of comprehensive sexuality education at all levels, including both male and female students, and stressed the importance of discussing the healthy relationship, the significance of permission, and making their own choices about their bodies with their children at a young age.
The myths about sex and relationships must be corrected and youths should be able to access health services, particularly about reproductive health concerns.
The council also encourages groups and organizations to conduct a study on early pregnancy in the view of male partners.
“Mas bigyan diin ang importansya ng pagkakaroon ng suporta sa mga taong aming pinagkakatiwalaan dahil malaki ang papel nila sa aming pagtanda,” a member said.
“Sana ay magkaroon din sila (Department of Health) ng training sa mga barangay health workers para maiwasan ang stigma ng kabataan na nais makakuha ng serbisyo na reproduktibo. Kaakbay nito, importante rin ang kasiguruhan ng barangay health centers na may sapat na bilang ng mga contraception, tuloy-tuloy na maibahagi sa mga nangangailangan,” another member added.
Swanepoel said that the areas their group is going to focus on in the future are social support, consent, and services.
Regional director Reynaldo Wong of the Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) on the other hand, said that providing youth with quality service education, reproductive health education, and bridging the intergenerational gap through borderless communication may reverse the situation and prevent early unintended pregnancies among adolescents.
“Schools must allow teens to express and experience success at school where high expectations are set, met, and even surpassed, and rewarded swiftly. Academic support that encourages positive adolescent development is intentionally provided,” he said.
The PopCom together with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ReachHealth and Department of Health (DOH) on July 22 the KONEKTADO TAYO, an online platform for parents of teens that aims to promote and strengthen the connection between them and their teens specifically on discussions about love, sex, and relationship.
“Beyond disseminating KONEKTADO TAYO, far and wide serving as a venue for mere information sharing, deepening of the subject matter discussion should be paramount to affect social behavior change and increase health-seeking behavior among male and female adolescents,” he said.