THE coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has focused the attention and resources of stakeholders for more than a year, deflecting attention from other issues that have an impact on society.
In 2019, the rising number of adolescent girls giving birth made Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia declare teenage pregnancy as a “national social emergency.”
As reported by Rappler on Oct. 24, 2019, the former head of the Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) said that the government should intensify programs for reproductive health (RH) to lessen the number of children being born to children.
Citing Popcom data, Rappler reported that around 1.2 million children give birth to children every year; about 300,000 of these young mothers have given birth more than once.
Nearly two years later, this particular national social emergency continues. PopCom monitored a seven-percent increase in births by mothers aged 15 years and below in 2019, continuing for the ninth year the trend in rising teenage pregnancies, reported SunStar Cebu on March 16, 2021.
Three areas in Luzon led in cases of teen pregnancy: Calabarzon, National Capital Region and Central Luzon, according to popcom.gov.ph. Outside of Luzon, Central Visayas, followed by Northern Mindanao, Davao and Cotabato topped the list.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) estimated that children born to families with income below the official poverty thresholds posted a poverty incidence of 23.9 percent in 2018, following farmers, fisherfolks and residents in rural areas.
Teen pregnancy does not just pull down the nation’s growth. It starts or even continues a cycle of deprivation and marginalization that keeps women and girls perpetually at a disadvantage in their access to better education, health, employment and other opportunities for self-actualization.
The enforced and extended home quarantine, as well as the suspension of in-school classes, create during the pandemic conditions that may exacerbate teen pregnancies and births.
Aside from the RH modules conducted in public schools, schooling and extracurricular involvement occupies adolescents in endeavors that distract them from premarital sex. Teachers, guidance counselors and peer counselors also provide factual information and advice in negotiating interpersonal relations, particularly in avoiding unprotected sex and unplanned pregnancy.
Although there is no data on incest cases resulting in teen pregnancies, the vulnerability of adolescent girls to predatory relatives is exacerbated by community lockdowns that require citizens to stay home to contain Covid-19 transmission.
Two years after teen pregnancy was declared as a national social emergency, what measures are undertaken by government to empower adolescent girls to discern and use the power of choice in prioritizing reproductive health and opportunities for better education and employment?
PopCom in Central Visayas (PopCom) 7 organized 11 teen centers based at the local government units in Cebu. These centers are managed by youths organized by population officers; trainings are aimed at enabling the youths to become peer educators and peer facilitators.
The grassroots rollout of RH advocates is also challenged by the pandemic, with face-to-face encounters, which suit discussions requiring sensitivity and tact, still kept to a minimum while the transmission of Covid-19 rises.
Aside from collaborating with civil society, the PopCom should reach out to other stakeholders, particularly the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups.
While the government and the Church disagree on RH, these stakeholders must see the urgency of using online communication, as well as more traditional means, to engage with a sector that must be persuaded that 10-14 years are not the ideal time to raise a child while one is still little more than a child herself.