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Teen pregnancy: a complex problem that needs complex solutions

Philippines sees sharp rise in teen mums

Dorilyn Sacaguing became pregnant three times before the age of 20 Dorilyn Sacaguing became pregnant three times before the age of 20
  • Claire Delfin, Manila
  • Philippines
  • September 17, 2012
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Dorilyn Sacaguing was only 17 years old when she became pregnant. Another two pregnancies followed before she reached the age of 20.

Sacaguing and her partner had only just finished high school when the first baby was on the way. Both are jobless and rely on the meager resources of her parents to feed and clothe their children.

“Life is really hard,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t know where to get food for the children. We don’t know how to provide for their schooling.”

Her sister Angeline, who has two children, gave birth to her firstborn when she was just 13 years old.

“There are regrets. I did not finish school. I did not fulfill my parents’ dreams for me and life now is very hard,” said Angeline.

These two young women are among the rapidly rising number of teenage mothers in this majority Catholic country.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of women aged between 15 and 19 giving birth each year more than doubled to over 206,500. Over the same period, the annual number of mothers under 14 years old also jumped from 755 in 2000 to more than 1,300 in 2010.

Speaking at a Manila conference on teenage pregnancy on Friday, Perci Cendaña, a member of the National Youth Commission, said the huge rise in teenage pregnancies was due to a complex set of issues reflective of a changing Philippines society.

Young people were being bombarded by information on sex, he said, particularly via the internet, and parental guidance was often missing.

“More parents are going abroad for work, leaving behind their children who become vulnerable to peer group pressure,” said Cendaña.

Dr. Emma Llanto, president of the Society of Adolescent Medicine of the Philippines, said that too often older men are taking advantage of young girls, another key factor driving underage pregnancy.

The average age of men that have impregnated minors – girls under the age of 16 – was found to be over 27, according to a study her organization conducted last year.

“This is why we tell parents to beware. Don’t allow your children to date much older men who are well developed mentally, who can plan, coerce and pressure their young girlfriends into giving in to their sexual desires,” said Llanto.

Teenage pregnancies are often hidden, she added. Pre-natal check-ups are delayed and the mother’s choices become narrower.

Instilling the values of abstinence among young people was key, said Lanto , adding that age-appropriate sex education should be taught to teenagers.

A new health bill proposes to do exactly that, and includes a proposal to distribute free contraceptives in what is already the 12th most populous country in the world, with about 93 million people.

Whether or not the Philippines parliament will pass legislation that has been about 14 years in the making remains to be seen amid protests by members of the Catholic Church.

Lanto said greater commitment is required by the government, Catholic Church and the private sector if the problem of teen pregnancy is to be seriously addressed.

“The complex problem of teenage pregnancies requires complex solutions,” she said.

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