Teen Pregnancy: A “National Social Emergency”

by Ellon Labana

Written by Henrylito D. Tacio

“Teen pregnancy is a communal problem, a family problem, and a personal problem all rolled into one. It frequently goes hand in hand with premarital sex. Problems come when the news needs to breach each parent’s party.” – Youth Problems in the Philippine Society


Classmates of Mary Ann were caught unaware.  She passed them and went straight to the national highway – walking as if she was under the influence of drugs.  Everyone screamed when a speeding vehicle came her way.  It was good that the driver was able to stop before he hit her.

At the school principal’s office, she was interrogated.  “I am three months pregnant,” said the 17-year-old high school student.  The principal was further stunned when he found out that the father was much younger – only 16 years old.

“My boyfriend asked me if I loved him and I said yes,” said 18-year-old Linda.  “He said that if I really loved him, I had to prove it by giving myself to him completely.  I didn’t want to lose him so I had to give in to his wishes.”

Six months later after “the sex encounter” happened – and pregnant at that! – her boyfriend dumped her for another girl.

Photos courtesy of WHO

Both Mary Ann and Linda had to quit schooling because of pregnancy.  The Annual Poverty Indicators Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed school dropouts have reached more than 2.97 million, 61.9% of whom are girls aged 16 to 24 who are forced into “marriage or family matters.”

“The number showed that the reason for the high number of dropout rate of girls is marriage and family matters, which can be treated also as teenage pregnancy,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones was quoted as saying by Philippine Star.

Recent studies have shown that 13% of Filipino girls aged 15-19 are already pregnant. Demographers call this phenomenon as teenage pregnancy. It happens when a female, who is less than 19 years old, becomes pregnant.

But what is alarming is that there are now girls below 15 years old who are already pregnant.  That’s according to The Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum), an advocacy organization that helps educate communities on reproductive health and rights.

“We work on the ground, and the problem is real and worrisome,” Benjamin de Leon, president of The Forum, said in a press statement.  “Our most recent encounter was a 10-year-old pregnant girl. We come face-to-face with teen girls who have stopped schooling because they have started childbearing, and this scenario worsens in areas with poverty and lack of education.”

In a recent development summit, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said 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.”

Commission on Population (Popcom) Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III has the same view.  “We are now in a situation that requires the declaration of national emergency because social, economic and health are affected… If we don’t act now, we will continue to see an increase of 200,000 teenage parents every year,” Philippine Star quoted him as saying.

Findings of the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) conducted by PSA unveiled gripping statistics: one in 10 girls aged 15-19 have begun childbearing.  “About 8% were already mothers and 2% were already pregnant with their first child,” the report said.

What is alarming is that three regions in Mindanao – Davao region, Northern Mindanao and Southwestern Mindanao – recorded the highest rates of teen pregnancies at 18%, 14.7% and 14.5% respectively.   All these were 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.

A previous study three years earlier, in 2014, the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics office reported that 12% or 210,000 of all deliveries recorded in the country belong to girls aged 10-19 years old.

“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,” said The Forum in a statement. “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.”

In a Health and Lifestyle feature, author Ma. Vanessa L. Estinozo quoted Dr. Jean S. Tay, director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Davao Doctors Hospital, on some factors why teenage girls are most likely to get pregnant: “If they are living together with their boyfriend, they are out of school, their parents are separated or one is overseas, they engage in sex at a young age and/or if they use condoms improperly.”

On the latter, Dr. Tay pointed out that “the risk of teen pregnancy increases 11.6 times with the use of condoms.”  As such, she believes “sexual abstinence” as “the more effective and rightful solution.”

In Western countries, teen pregnancy may not surprise anyone at all.  But in a developing country like the Philippines, it may come as a shock – particularly among religious leaders.  “From time to time, we always emphasized that pre-marital sex is morally wrong!” said a Catholic priest.

Poverty has been cited as one of the primary reasons why teen pregnancy is thriving!  Data from the United Nations Population Fund showed that teenage pregnancy has a huge rate in the country, particularly among the poor.  Two-thirds of Filipino women who give birth before age 20 belong to the low-class society.

But poverty is just one of the causes.  The website of the Youth in the Philippine Society (YPS) cites other reasons:

· The immature and irresponsible behavior arising due to complex teenage psychology is another important cause of teenage pregnancies. Teenagers often go through several emotions because of their own transition from childhood and peer pressure.

· The dearth of sexual education among teenagers causes them to get abortions as they ultimately realize their inability to bear the responsibilities of being a parent at such a young age.

· The lack of attention and affection from family resulting in depression forces them to seek love and support from other people, especially members of the opposite sex.

· Overprotection gives rise to frustration and a feeling of not being loved and cared for. Thus, balance is the key to avoid this problem. Lack of affectionate supervision of parents or guardians results into the adolescents or teenage girl’s becoming pregnant.

“Sex outside of marriage with multiple partners has consequences,” wrote Dr. Mildred R. Yutuc, an obstetrician-gynecologist, in an article which appeared in Health and Home.  “And when the girl is only in her teens, the consequences are truly serious.”

According to De Leon, 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,” he said. “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.”

Again, due to poverty, “many of those involved in teenage pregnancy die off prematurely because of lack of proper medical attention” the YPS website stated.  

A study done by the Population Institute of the University of the Philippines said more than 46% of teenage pregnant women resort to induced abortion.  In fact, two out of every 5 teenage pregnancies are unwanted ones, the study said.

Aside from death, De Leon 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.

Becoming pregnant or having a child at a tender age also means dropping out from schools. “Many pregnant female children end up dropping out from school to avoid shame thus undermining government’s efforts towards ensuring Education for All and the Millennium Development Goal of Education in the nearest future,” the YPS website said.

Although teen pregnancy rate declined – from 10.2% in 2016 to 8.7% in 2017 – Popcom’s Perez said the figure is still high: about 196,000 teenage women get pregnant every year.

He wants the number to dip and that is what his office is trying to do.  “What we’re aiming for is to avoid pregnancy at a younger age, to have fewer children, to have children that you can afford to raise,” Perez told Business Mirror.

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