600 Live births a day: Teenage pregnancy rising in the Philippines

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"Teenage pregnancy has, to some degree, stripped me of my dignity. The hate has not stopped."

It is alarming how quick the rate of teenage pregnancy in the Philippines is rising. And the story below is an all too common tale that's experienced by a number of teens in the country.

I was scared, confused, and anxious. I feared what my parents would say.

Would they hit me? Disown me? Hate me? I worried about what other people would say, too.

Would they judge me? Condemn me? Would they avoid me?

I was 17 and pregnant. I tried to find the courage to tell my parents, but the fear overwhelmed my resolve.

And so I faced the growing panic and crushing uncertainties of teenage pregnancy on my own.

Rise in teenage pregnancy in the Philippines

According to the WHO, about 16 million girls between the ages of 15-19, and around 1 million girls under 15 years old give birth each year.

In the Philippines, said May-i Fabros, Youth Commissioner of the Philippine Commission on Women, 600 live births a day are registered under teenage mothers.

“One out of three adolescents has sex, and the numbers are rising,” Fabros said. Even more disturbing is the fact that 15% of sexual encounters for teens below 15 years old are forced; 5% for those between 15-19 years old.

One out of ten adolescent girls gets pregnant. Of these pregnancies, many are terminated through unsafe abortion practices. As of 2014, the Philippine Statistical Authority revealed that one baby is delivered by teenage mothers every hour. A separate study by the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS) revealed that around 14% of Filipino girls between the ages of 15 to 19 are either pregnant with their first child, or are already mothers.

Many of these pregnancies end in abortion. According to the Philippines Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN), some 600,000 induced abortions are recorded in the Philippines each year. Of these, about a third involves adolescents.

Read: Teenage pregnancy in Philippines: Tips for pregnant teens and their parents

Worldwide, WHO estimates some 3 million girls aged 15-19 undergo unsafe abortions.

“The statistics are alarming,” said lawyer Clarita Padilla, Executive Director of EnGedeRights.

See why all this is happening, on the next page.

Factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy

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The WHO cites the lack of sex education as one of the main contributing factors to the rise in adolescent pregnancies worldwide.

“Even with the passage of the Reproductive Health law, we don’t have sexuality education in schools around the country,” Padilla lamented. Moves to teach sex education as a separate subject have met heavy opposition from the Catholic church here.

Most adolescents, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), may feel too inhibited or ashamed to avail of contraception services. Contraceptives may also be too expensive or may not be readily or legally available for teenagers.

Fabros added that adolescents, especially in the Philippines, where sex is not openly discussed, are too ashamed to ask for contraception advice from health workers and are unlikely to avail of contraception methods. Filipino adolescents also need parental consent when availing of contraception.

“Barriers to access to contraception are more stringent for adolescents,” Fabros said.

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“Adolescents have the highest unmet need for contraception,” Fabros also said, adding that the problem will only worsen with the recent PhP 1 billion cut in government funding for contraception.

According to YAFS, some 80% of Filipino high school students’ first sexual encounters were unprotected. Among college students, only 35.6% felt they had adequate knowledge on sex.

Aside from lack of sex education and access to contraception, other factors behind the growing number of teenage pregnancies are: peer pressure, deterioration of family life, lack of role models, absence of accessible and adolescent-friendly clinics.

Stigmatization

On my seventh month of pregnancy, my mother finally confronted me and asked me if I was pregnant. I felt her pain when I confirmed her worst fear, but I also saw the love in her eyes. Her heart was bleeding for me.

Soon after, my father wrote me a heartfelt letter about the “pain I dealt him”. He couldn’t talk to me face to face. I guess it was too hard for him. In his letter, he spoke to me about my future and how “time heals all wounds.”

I was blessed to have parents who did not hate me despite what I had done. Other young parents are not as lucky. I have heard horror stories of parents forcing their daughters to have an abortion, or of fathers beating up their daughters.

But I was not spared of the condemnation. As my belly grew, I felt a deep sense of shame when people stared at me with unforgiving eyes, and heard them whisper behind my back. They made me feel so dirty. And it was not just me they were judging. They were judging my parents, too.

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I gave birth to my son--this unexpected and unplanned gift from God-- on October 4, 1998. I was 18 years old. At the hospital, I felt the animosity and disapproval of the nurses and doctors. Except for a handful of sympathetic staff members, most treated me with contempt and spoke to me in curt tones.

I have loved my son all these 17 years

“The stigmatization and discrimination of teenage mothers goes on beyond pregnancy. It is there when they give birth, and even after they give birth,” Fabros said.

Years down the road, I applied to be an English teacher in a Christian school. I was denied because the school feared that my situation would send the wrong message on sex and abstinence to their students. The school also felt that the parents would frown on their hiring me.

It has been 17 years since that tumultuous time in my life when an uninformed choice led me down the road to motherhood. I have, since then, finished school, worked in media, and gotten married. Most importantly, I have loved my son all these 17 years.

But throughout my 17 years of parenthood--despite the little triumphs I have earned through God’s grace--society has continued to judge me. I still get those unforgiving stares when I am out with my son and people hear him say “mama.” These people, who don’t know me, perhaps question my morals.

Teenage pregnancy has, to some degree, stripped me of my dignity. The hate has not stopped. But I draw strength from my family and friends who know my worth. I am blessed with a loving husband and beautiful children. And I continue to pray for young mothers who aren’t as blessed as me.

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