[Opinion] Why teenage pregnancy is a development issue

By examining the statistics on teenage pregnancy, the Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum) showed the severity of the problem and it illustrated why this is a development issue.

The group illustrated the situation using the result of the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). The survey result disclosed that 10 girls aged 15-19 have begun childbearing: 8% were already mothers and 2% were already pregnant with their first child.

Among the regions across the Philippines, three of the regions in Mindanao were recorded with the highest rates of teenage pregnancies: Davao region at 18%, Northern Mindanao – 14.7% and Southwestern Mindanao (or Soccsksargen) – 14.5%. These stats are all above the national average which is 8.6%, stressed by The Forum.

The same report likewise revealed that 24 babies are born to teenagers every hour; 500 babies are born to teen girls every day, and 196,000 girls aged 15-19 get pregnant every year.It also shared that in 2014, the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics office reported that 12 percent or 210,000 of all deliveries recorded in the country belong to girls aged 10-19 years old. Take note, 10 to 19 years old.

This is the reason why Education Secretary Leonor “Liling” Briones brought to public consciousness the severity of teenage or adolescent pregnancy as a serious development issue that we face today. Three key government agencies discussed this problem during a summit entitled: Kapit Kamay: Empowering the Youth to Make Informed Choices.

The gathering offered an opportunity to examine the education, health and development dimensions of early pregnancy, as such DepEd gathered the cooperation of the Dept. of Health (DoH) and the active involvement of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia described the matter as a “national social emergency” underscoring the socio-economic implications of teenage pregnancy on the future of the economy. On the other hand, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III linked the health impacts of teenage pregnancy both on the young mother and the infant.

The issue of teenage pregnancy and its impact to long-term development is not only a domestic or national concern; it is rather a global problem according to the World Health Organization. The Philippines is considered among nations with a high exposure to teenage pregnancy because of our large poor population.

WHO noted that this is a prevalent problem among marginalized communities which are “commonly driven by poverty, lack of education and employment opportunities.” The people within poor communities absorb the health, economic and social consequences of teenage pregnancy. Considering the age of young women (10 to 19 y/o) based from the stats, we can already visualize the situation at the household level of poor communities.

The report by WHO also revealed that adolescent pregnancy is a major contributor to maternal and child mortality. Globally, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 years old. If not death, young girls are tied to an intergenerational cycle of ill-health and poverty.

The reality of this global scenario is validated by The Forum in the Philippine setting. First, it underscored that the cases of teenage pregnancy are mostly on localities where awareness and education about reproductive health is lacking. Benjamin de Leon, president of The Forum, offered a concrete example why the situation is alarming from a recent encounter with a 10-year old pregnant girl(yes, a 10 year old) in one of the community that they visited.

Second, the group also showed how the health impact is reflected at the community. “We have come face-to-face with teen girls who have to stop schooling because they have started childbearing,” said de Leon.

Childbearing among young adolescent carries the consequences of having babies with low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions. It is life-threatening for a young mother and her baby for the reason that the bodies of adolescent and teen girls are not yet ready for the physical demands of childbearing.

The problem is aggravated when the young mother, who is not yet fully educated about childbearing, becomes pregnant again without the benefit of proper birth spacing. Their babies bear the burden of an unhealthy condition that can lead to infant mortality. The babies who are born to teen mothers have far lower survival rates.

Third, young mothers also face the next level of challenge – its social and economic consequences. Unmarried pregnant adolescents face the ridicule of peers and the embarrassment becomes a stigma on their families and the community. The lack of preparedness and maturity to attend on the various responsibility of parenthood likewise bring them in conflict with their partners often leading to domestic violence.

Since childbearing causes young women to stop schooling, they have to confront the long term impact on their lives. It reduce their ability to attain higher education there by diminishing access to opportunities that will allow them to develop skills set that are needed for employment. Unemployment or under-employment lessen their real value for future earnings. This can be translated to poor economic freedom in the long term.

This is probably the context why teenage pregnancy is now being declared as a national emergency. The government is losing not only a potential annual income, but a valuable human resource from young women. They are integral for the development of our nation and the government must intervene to contain the situation and provide long term program.

Secretary Briones is correct when she said that our teenage women need to have the proper education, especially on reproductive rights and reproductive health. It will take time, but it must not be neglected. We do not want a future society with a disempowered women as a result of early pregnancy and childbearing.

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