Teenage pregnancy costs P33-B yearly

UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Leila Joudane said the Philippines loses an estimated P33 billion a year due to adolescent pregnancy, while the foregone income of teenage girls who get pregnant is P83,000 a year.

TACLOBAN CITY — She’s supposed to be in school to pursue her dream of becoming a school teacher but 17-year-old Ashley is busy attending to her eight-month-old baby in a decrepit two-story 30-square meter house in an urban poor community in this city.

“I miss going to school. I envy my friends who are attending their classes and still have a chance at fulfilling their dreams,” she sobs while recalling the fond memories of her carefree younger days. “Motherhood is very taxing but it is here, there is nothing that I can do now.”

Ashley was only 15 when she got pregnant by her then 22-year-old boyfriend who was a friend of her elder stepbrother. He is a stay-in worker at a small company manufacturing fish crackers and only comes home once a week to give her money that is not even enough to buy milk, diapers, and her needs.

“I am basically the only one raising our baby. I am glad that my sister is helping me,” she said. Her elder sister, 21, is also raising her four-year-old son and was an underaged girl when she became a mother herself.

Ashley said she expected she would get pregnant as there were no contraceptives around despite her desire not to have a baby yet. The health center would not give her contraceptives as she needed parental approval but her parents had long separated, leaving six children to fend for themselves under the eye of relatives who are also their neighbors.

Dr. Leila Joudane, the country representative of the United Nations Population Fund, said the Philippines ranks second among countries in Southeast Asia with the highest adolescent birth rates with 56 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19, citing a World Bank study in 2020.

She said the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS5) study, on the other hand, shows nearly four in every 10 young Filipinos do not have access to information about sex, while three out of 10 get their information from social media.

Joudane said the Philippines loses an estimated P33 billion a year due to adolescent pregnancy, while the foregone income of teenage girls who get pregnant is P83,000 a year.
“When she gets pregnant early, she would earn much less than people who continue to study,” Joudane said. “The issue of adolescent pregnancy affects her potential future.”

Unmet needs
Department of Health Officer in Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said adolescent pregnancy is both a health and a social issue. She said the 2020 civil registration and vital statistics records provide evidence that pregnancy during adolescence increases the risk of maternal mortality during childbirth.

The government had declared teenage pregnancy a national social emergency since August 2019.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that in 2020, 159 women aged 15 to 19 died during childbirth, accounting for 6 percent of all deaths for that particular age group.

“At the same time, babies born to adolescent mothers are almost twice more likely to be of low birth weight than those born to adult mothers. This increases the long-term risk of morbidity and mortality for the child,” she said.

Vergeire said the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey showed that the Philippines’ unmet need for family planning among young women aged 15-19 is at 27.9 percent, which is significantly higher than any other age group or the total average of 16.7 percent.

“The country also has one of the highest rates of unmet need for family planning for adolescents among countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The World Health Organization considers women with unmet needs as those who are sexually active but are not using any method of contraception, and report not wanting any more children or wanting to delay the next child. The concept of unmet need points to the gap between women’s reproductive intentions and their contraceptive behavior.

Vergeire added that adolescent pregnancy is also an important social issue as it often results in poor lifelong social and economic results since young mothers are more likely not to have graduated from high school or college, to be unemployed, and will likely be poor.

“The poor outcomes also extend to their children, who are also more likely to have poor nutrition and education outcomes. This has effects not just on the individual, but on society as a whole,” she said.
The Philippine government, Korea International Cooperation Agency, and the United Nations — through UNFPA, United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization —launched a program here on Monday to address the high rates of adolescent pregnancies in the country.

Funded by the Republic of Korea, through KOICA, the joint program, “Accelerating the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy in Southern Leyte and Samar in the Philippines,” aims to improve access of the adolescent population to sexual and reproductive health services and information, to raise their self-awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as to enhance leadership and governance on ASRH.

Leading the Joint Program steering committee is the DoH with the UN Resident Coordinator, Gustavo Gonzalez, as its co-chair. Members are the said UN agencies, KOICA, the Department of Education, and the governors of Samar and Southern Leyte.

Joudane said the project, which will start rolling out this year until 2026, targets some 275,538 adolescents aged 10 to 19 in Samar and Southern Leyte provinces.

She said the project seeks to build the capacity of community adolescent health services, set up mobile health facilities, expand health insurance benefits for pregnant women, standardize and strengthen peer education, accelerate the integration of CSE and teacher training, establish a local performance accountability system, support youth leadership and governance initiatives, and conduct research on early and forced marriages.

The program will train 150 health service providers, 150 public school teachers on CSE rollout, and 360 local government units in 20 towns and cities in Southern Leyte and Samar provinces.

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