16 and pregnant: Teenage pregnancy in the Philippines
“We love each other, so we don’t use a condom.”
“I heard contraception causes cancer.”
“Pills cause abortion, and abortion is a sin.”
“He said he loved me, and that he’ll take responsibility for the baby.”
“Wearing a condom makes it less pleasurable.”
Far from MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, the reality that the majority of teenage mothers in the Philippines experience is grim. Not only do these teen moms face the stigma of having children out of wedlock, the financial burden of raising another human being, and the strenuous experience of pregnancy and childbirth, they are subjected to the risk of maternal death. Hundreds of thousands of girls in the Philippines, usually aged 15-19 years old, unwittingly become mothers. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that there has been an almost 70% increase in the number of pregnant teenagers in the span of a decade.
In the Guttmacher Institute’s “Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young Women in the Philippines: 2013 Data Update”, it was reported that married adolescents in the Philippines relied on traditional methods almost as much as they did on modern methods (17% and 19%, respectively). Adolescents were far more likely than all women of reproductive age to be using such methods, which have far higher failure rates than most modern methods. Twenty-nine percent of married adolescents had an unmet need for contraception, meaning that they wanted to avoid pregnancy but were not using any contraceptive method; this proportion is much higher than that among married women of any other age-group (15–22%).
Further, myths about contraception e.g. contraceptives cause cancer and obesity, prevent adolescents from seeking the help they need. Ultra-religious and “pro-life” groups oftentimes propagate and reinforce these myths. Poorer communities in the rural areas which have less access to information and medical facilities often succumb to this propaganda.
In the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS) study, 50% of Filipino teenagers list their friends as source of information about sex; 23% admit that they have no one to consult. The study reports that 40 to 45% of adolescents do not have access to sexual health materials. These teenagers turn to television and popular media for information (which may oftentimes be inaccurate).
Church and state
On the government’s side, there is still plenty to do to address the teen pregnancy “epidemic”. In a study conducted by Melgar, et al., titled “Assessment of country policies affecting reproductive health for adolescents in the Philippines”, it was found that a significant number of Philippine-governmental norms and standards are restrictive, reflecting the strong influence of conservative religious beliefs. The study says the values of the Catholic hierarchy and so-called “pro-life” movement are behind these norms. According to these beliefs, “modern contraception undermines the family, weakens parental rights over children, and promotes sexual license”.
Such strong religious inclinations serve as barriers to women’s access to reproductive healthcare. For instance, the mayor of Manila banned contraceptive services in local health facilities in 2000. His objections were based on his religious beliefs. Other officials may also refuse to cooperate with other local officials because of political or personal differences.
Luckily, there are non-government organizations that endeavor to counteract misinformation. Teens can get answers to questions they would normally not ask due to shame. This includes reliable online resources which are not a substitute to parental guidance and comprehensive sex education but do help keep people safe sexually by providing a guide to contraceptive care. People can learn about all the contraceptive methods that are out there, compare different options and choose the best. With the advent of technology, such platforms can serve as an effective means to curb teen pregnancy.
Do you have something to share? Leave your comments below, contact us on our social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on contraception, visit findmymethod.org
About the author: Dawn Macahilo is a sexual and reproductive health and rights activist based in Manila.