Alex, not her real name, was 17 and in the process of completing her senior high when she got pregnant. Today she is a single mother to a one and a half year old child, trying to balance her college studies with solo parenting.
“Mahirap maging single parent, kasi marami akong hindi nagagawa na sana ini-enjoy ko pa hanggang ngayon dahil bata pa ako,” she told Palawan News.
Her story isn’t at all rare, considering that in Palawan specifically, the incidence of teenage pregnancy has consistently been highest in the MIMAROPA region. According to 2019 figures of the Population Commission, teenage pregnancy covers 13.3 percent of all pregnancies in Puerto Princesa City and 15.3 percent in the 23 municipalities of the province.
Although these numbers are relatively low compared to previous years’ data like in 2018, when POPCOM tallied a total of 7,546 cases of teenage pregnancy in MIMAROPA with Palawan having 3,510 cases, and Puerto Princesa 1,051, the province has still the highest numbers in the region.
Lack of awareness
Experts and public health advocates generally agree that the main driver behind rising trend in teenage pregnancy is the lack of proper understanding among the youth about sex education and its relevance to their decision-making.
On hindsight, Alex realized that if she knew better about reproductive health and use of contraceptives she would be in a better situation.
“Sa nakikita ko kasi yung mga kabataan ngayon gusto lagi mag-explore, mag-enjoy pero kung alam lang sana nila yung kalalabasan, hindi na nila gagawin ‘yong mga bagay na ‘yon,” she said.
Roots of Health (ROH) executive director Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, a champion of reproductive health advocacies, believes that addressing the problem of teenage pregnancy should entail a “multi-sectoral” approach.
“There’s no single solution that will work here [teenage pregnancy]. This is a multi-sectoral issue, therefore we need to have multi-sectoral approaches. One of the major aspects is the comprehensive sexuality education for young people which they should be getting in schools,” Swanepoel said.
She noted that even if Republic Act No. 10354 or the Reproductive Health (RH) Law has been in existence for almost nine years now, a comprehensive sexuality education, which is a “critical piece of puzzle,” is still lacking in the curricula of schools in the country.
On the other hand, Abigail Ablaña, chief of the Provincial Social Welfare Development Office (PSWDO), noted the important role that the family plays in shaping the youth to avoid getting caught up in social ills like this.
“We always go back to what kind of family ang pinanggalingan ng bata, anong klaseng support ang natatanggap niya pati parental guidance and love. Ang pagbigay ng tamang pag-aaruga sa bata would lead to a better child or a better person,” Ablaña stated.
Teenage pregnancy in numbers
Teenage pregnancy was declared as a national social emergency in 2019 due to the trends of minors getting pregnant, engaging in sexual activities, and acquiring reproductive health problems — continuously increasing in numbers.
As of the latest study of the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), conducted in 2019, seven were born to children aged 10-14 while about 171 livebirths were born to adolescent minors every day, increasing the rate of teenage pregnancy in the country by seven percent.
Both Swanepoel and Ablaña believe this high numbers may be attributed to the big population of the province as well as the fortified monitoring system that the provincial government and NGOs have exerted efforts to.
But it does not stop there. According to Ablaña, PSWDO is working on ways to strengthen the services of municipal population officers who will help in assessing even unreported and duplicated cases.
A vicious cycle
Teenage pregnancy is a multi-sectoral issue and the fluctuating figures may just be the tip of the iceberg.
“Aside from the fact that it’s harmful for their health, it also leads an end to their education. There are several risk factors that cause health problems to the baby, and usually kapag ‘di planado di rin nag-a-access ng pre-natal care services,” Swanepoel said.
Ablaña, on the other hand, mentioned during an interview, “Sabi nga, sa bawat pagtaas ng teenage pregnancy, malaki rin ang nawawalang potential economic gain ng Pilipinas. They’re supposed to have the right education and employment. But when they get pregnant and start a family, they lose it”.
According to the study entitled “Education, Earnings and Health Effects of Teenage Pregnancy in the Philippines” by Alejandro Herrin, in 2016, “early childbearing reduces age-earnings profile through its effect on high school completion, and the discounted lifetime wage earnings foregone by teenage women resulting from early child birthing is estimated at 33 billion pesos.”
In the province, another underlying issue that surfaces during similar conversations, is the presence of Indigenous Peoples groups who reside in geographically isolated areas lacking of basic health service and whose tradition permits child marriages resulting to adolescent pregnancies.
For Swanepoel and Ablaña, reconciling traditions with laws and science is quite a difficult task but a better way to solve it is through education.
“You don’t want to go in and just say mali yan because it’s their tradition. It’s a concern of health and education, we focus on the fact that we have this shared concern that all girls are healthy walang mamatay sa pagbubuntis, and they have education. We focus less on saying that this is wrong or not,” Swanepoel expressed.
The pandemic today may have even magnified the fight against teenage pregnancy. In fact, the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) projected an additional 18,000 unexpected pregnancies over the quarantine period in the country.
With this additional challenge posed in the health sector, LGUs and various NGOs doubled their efforts to reduce, if not bring down to zero, the cases of teenage pregnancy in the country.
In Palawan, Roots of Health continue to provide services through their clinics and trainings for volunteers, SK leaders, and community members, as well as online teachings in some schools.
Meanwhile, the PSWD targets not only teenage pregnancy but also reproductive age services and programs to be given to families, schools, church, and other community stakeholders.