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Bishops 'to blame' for Filipino teen pregnancy boom

Health experts say opposition to contraception fueling problem

Bishops 'to blame' for Filipino teen pregnancy boom

A 19-year old sugar plantation worker's daughter, who is pregnant with her first child, fixes their belongings in their hut in Negros Occidental province (photo by Jimmy A. Domingo)

Joe Torres, Manila

March 19, 2014

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Health experts in the Philippines today blamed Church leaders for the growing number of Filipino youth engaging in premarital sex and increasing rates of teenage pregnancy.

Dr. Esperanza Cabral, convenor of the reproductive health advocates group Purple Ribbon, said that the inability of the group to drive progress on adolescent sexuality and reproductive health was "mainly because of the objection of the bishops” to contraception.

Many Catholics had filed petitions against the implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, which would provide funding for contraception and sex education.

Cabral, who until 2010 had headed the Department of Health, said the effect of the delay in the implementation of the law had been felt on the ground already.

The latest data from the National Statistics Office show that in 2010 alone, 570 girls below 19 years old give birth every day. The data shows that poor teenage girls are five times more likely to have begun motherhood than wealthy ones.

At least 10 percent of registered maternal deaths in 2010 were teenagers, up from six percent in 2000. Maternal deaths among those aged 15 to 19 also rose from 96 to 164 from 2000 to 2010. Teenage pregnancy in the Philippines has increased by 70 percent within 10 years since 1999, the UN Population Fund said last year.

"These are young people who should have benefited from the sex education program under the new law," Cabral told in an interview.

She said the bishops object to the inclusion of reproductive health and sex education in schools because they think that the issue should not be talked about, or that it should only be discussed between parents and children.

"But we all know that parents in the Philippines don't actually talk about sex with their children," the doctor said, adding that young people often get misleading information.

"The Church itself should be educated about sex and reproductive health," Cabral said. "But like the proverbial horse, you can lead it to the water, but you cannot make the horse drink if it doesn't want to."

Catholic bishops had expressed alarm over a report from 2013 that found that one in every three youth aged 15 to 24 has engaged in premarital sex, higher by more than 14 percent than a study done 20 years ago.

Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said the result of the study should "challenge us all the more to intensify the formation of young people regarding real values."

Cabral, however, said she hopes that the country's bishops will heed the call of Pope Francis for "less talk and more action, action that will show mercy."

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