A Call for Urgent and Decisive Action on Adolescent Reproductive Health

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Adolescent pregnancy is among the most serious sexual and reproductive health and rights, public health, and development concerns faced by young Filipinos and the entire Filipino society at present. In the Philippines, one in every 10 young women aged 15-19 years old is already a mother or pregnant with her first child. And this increases with age; among the 19-year-olds, one in every five is already a mother. 24 babies are born to teen mothers every hour. This means more than 500 per day or more than 200,000 babies delivered by teen mothers annually.

The 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey also reveals that age group 15-19 years old is the only age group that continues to register an increase in fertility rate, the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate, and the highest unmet need for family planning.

With the Reproductive Health Law (Republic Act 10354)—the most comprehensive legislation on reproductive health—barring access of minors to family planning without written parental consent and the non-implementation of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), legal as well as social obstacles to the access to critical information and services, particularly on contraception, make young people highly susceptible to various complications and consequences brought about by engaging in unprotected sex and other risky sexual behavior as well as by risks of sexual and gender-based violence. The release of the policy guidelines for CSE by the Department of Education in July 2018 is seen as a huge step towards achieving this, but stronger efforts are needed to finally implement CSE.

Another dimension that needs to be highlighted is that data from the civil registry suggest that majority of adolescent pregnancies may be a result of exploitative relationship, sexual violence, child marriage, or a combination of these.

The Philippines ranks 12th globally in terms of absolute number of child marriages. 16.5% of women aged 20 to 24 years were first married or in union before age 18. 2% of women aged 20-24 years were first married before age 15. One out of six Filipino girls marry before 18. Marriages involving teenage brides account for 12.2% of all registered marriages in the Philippines.

Girls are disproportionately affected by the practice of child marriage. For every boy, four girls are married before they reach their 18th birthday. 75% of child brides are married off to adult men. 

The issues of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are intertwined because one can cause the other. In communities where child marriage is allowed, it is usually practiced to prevent pregnancy and childbirth out of wedlock. On the other hand, early marriage often leads to early pregnancy. These twin issues have multiple negative and sometimes irreversible effects on the social status, health outcomes, and development prospects of a girl and her child.

With the Covid-19 pandemic that increases risks of unplanned pregnancy and violence against women and girls, it is estimated that there will be 18,000 more adolescent pregnancies that will result from the lockdowns and disrupted services. 

Our call is for an urgent and decisive action toward:

  • the enactment of the bills on adolescent pregnancy prevention and prohibition of child marriage,
  • the implementation of the mandatory comprehensive sexuality education under the Reproductive Health Law, and
  • meaningful budget allocation for reproductive health, even and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Girls are too young to have children. It is too soon for them to marry. They deserve a world that has their best interests at heart, a society that allows them to realize their full potential. Let us all work to make such a world possible. 

#NoMoreChildrenHavingChildren #ImplementRH #CSENow #EndChildMarriage