House panel OKs bill on policies to prevent teenage pregnancy

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The House Committee on Youth and Sports on Thursday, Feb. 2, approved a substitute bill, subject to amendment and style, that would institutionalize a comprehensive policy against the prevalence of teenage pregnancy and make family planning methods accessible to sexually active minors.

Filipino pregnant mothers (File photo/MANILA BULLETIN)

“Prepare a substitute bill as working draft for the next committee hearing,” Isabela 5th District Rep. Faustino Michael Carlos Dy III, also the committee head, told the secretariat during the initial deliberations on the proposed measures.

The substitute bill would consolidate House Bills (HBs) 79 by Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, 6964 by Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel, 2524 by Calamba City lone District Rep. Charisse Anne Hernandez, 3211 by Samar 1st District Rep. Stephen Tan, 5559 by Quezon City 5th District Rep. Patrick Michael “PM” Vargas, and 6901 by La Union 1st District Rep. Francisco Paolo Ortega.

Manuel’s HB 6964 aims to establish a Council on Adolescent Health, Welfare, and Development, make pregnancy prevention a priority project of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), develop an Adolescent Reproductive Health Curriculum, make reproductive health services accessible, encourage “male involvement” through counseling and other programs, and create protection mechanisms against sexual violence against adolescents.

The proposed measure came on the heels of a 2019 study by the Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) classifying teenage pregnancy as a “national social emergency" because of the declining average ages of adolescents experiencing early childbearing and an increase in the number of families headed by teenagers.

This was confirmed by PopCom Undersecretary Lisa Grace Bersales who reported during the deliberations that while there was a decrease in the adoloscent birth rate and proportion of women aged 15 to 19 that began child bearing during the pandemic, the statistics on the “the much younger teenage girls” of ages 10 to 14 have become concerning.

“The statistics from the Civil Registry of Statistics system of the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) that in 2020, there were 2,113 births from this age group, 10-14,” Bersales reported.

“From the field health service information system of the DOH (Department of Health), the births for this age group was 2,534 down to 2,299 in 2021. So, the statistics varied depending on the source of data, but they are all worrying,” she said.

READ: ‘Disturbing’ rise in teen pregnancy concerns lawmakers

A report in Sept. 2020 by PopCom revealed that about 40 to 50 Filipino children aged 10 to 14 years old give birth every week, equaling to at least 2,080 births in a year.

HB 79 by Lagman noted the consequences of early pregnancy.

“Due to early pregnancy, young girls fail to finish basic education, lack adequate skills for remunerative work, and are economically vulnerable, thus perpetuating inter-generational poverty,” the bill’s explanatory note said.

It added that mandatory reproductive health education becomes more important in a country like the Philippines where discussions about sex in Filipino homes “is taboo or the parents themselves are uninformed.”

“Legislating a comprehensive law on preventing adolescent pregnancy is imperative to institutionalize policies and strategies on eliminating or mitigating adolescent pregnancy, and extend social protection to adolescent mothers and their infants,” the bill said.

“Verily, enacting a law preventing adolescent pregnancy will save young girls from the clutches of maternal death, unemployment, and poverty, and improve their future and reinforce their self-esteem,” it furthered.

Manuel’s bill took note of the “flaws in the construction, provision, and accessibility of reproductive health services and laws in the Philippines,” specifically Republic Act 10354, known as "The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.”

The Act, the bill’s explanatory note stated, “restricts minors from accessing modern methods of family planning unless written consent from their parents or guardian/s is obtained.”

“The limited accessibility and availability of material on sex education leave the youth to their own devices. Most teenagers turn to the internet for information on reproductive health and related concerns. As such, most are unaware of the existence and need for contraceptives or other family planning measures,” it added.