New Philippines Bill Aims to Combat Child and Teen Pregnancy Crisis

by Ella

A new legislative initiative, viewed as a potential game-changer in the fight against child and teen pregnancies in the Philippines, is making progress through the country’s Congress. This development has spurred activists who hope it will catalyze a broader effort to address what they describe as a “national social emergency.”


The “Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill,” which successfully passed the House in September and is now under consideration in the Senate, seeks to broaden access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception. This is in response to the persistent problem of early pregnancies, affecting girls as young as 10, in a predominantly Catholic nation where the age of consent was raised from 12 to 16 only last year.


The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, a leading advocate for the bill, has indicated that it is merely two steps away from a Senate vote.


Rom Dongeto, the executive director of the said group, expressed optimism, saying, “We are hopeful that the senators will find the time to deliberate on the measure and see not only the bill’s merit … but also its urgency.” He emphasized the significance of the issue and called for unified support to expedite the bill’s passage.


One critical aspect the bill addresses is the incongruity between the legal age of consent for sexual relations, which is 16, and the requirement for written parental consent for individuals under 18 to access contraceptives. Health experts argue that this discord, coupled with insufficient information about sexual and reproductive health and the stifling influence of social stigma, has contributed to high rates of teenage pregnancies.

Leila Joudane, the Philippines representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), pointed out that “abstinence is not enough” when girls are already sexually active, and they require access to contraceptives. She praised the discussion of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill in both the Senate and the House, which aims to provide adolescents aged 15 and older with access to contraception.

The bill recognizes the “evolving capacities of children” to make informed decisions about their health and sexuality. It calls for all children aged 15 and under who are sexually active, pregnant, or have begun childbearing to have full access to reproductive health services without parental consent, extending the same rights to all boys and girls aged 15-18.

In 2019, the Philippine government declared pregnancies among 10- to 14-year-olds a national social emergency. Data from the World Bank, as reported by UNFPA in the following year, revealed that the Philippines had 47 births annually per 1,000 women aged 15-19, equating to over 500 Filipino adolescent girls getting pregnant and giving birth daily.

While there has been a decrease in teenage pregnancies among girls aged 15 to 19 from 8.6 percent in 2017 to 5.4 percent in the last year, the issue of early childbearing remains unresolved, with persistently high rates among girls aged 10-14.

The costs of teen pregnancies have wide-reaching impacts in a country where nearly 30 percent of the population is under 15, and around one in six girls is married before turning 18. Supporters of the bill emphasize that it will save young girls from maternal mortality, unemployment, poverty, and enhance their future prospects and self-esteem.

Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the bill, highlighted the link between early pregnancy and future poverty, as girls who become pregnant often fail to complete basic education, becoming economically vulnerable and perpetuating intergenerational poverty.

According to a 2016 study commissioned by UNFPA, the net effect of early childbearing, accounting for lost opportunities and foregone earnings, amounts to approximately 33 billion pesos (US$579.86 million) annually. Adolescent pregnancy is also a significant factor contributing to the Philippines’ low female labor force participation rate in Southeast Asia.

The same study found that only 65 percent of girls who experience early childbearing are expected to complete high school. Completing high school would result in higher daily earnings for these girls, around 300 pesos (US$5.26) more per day.

Early childbearing not only increases the rate of maternal mortality but also hampers girls’ access to education, opportunities for productivity, and their future life choices. Health risks, particularly severe for younger girls, include conditions like anemia, sexually transmitted infections, post-partum hemorrhage, and mental health issues such as depression.

While the bill is seen as a step in the right direction, activists acknowledge that the challenge runs deeper. Changing societal mindsets is essential, as is expanding access to adolescent-friendly sexual health services.

Leila Joudane emphasized the need to address social norms and legal barriers related to sexual reproductive health services, emphasizing the importance of educating parents about granting consent for girls aged 10-14 to access contraceptives.

UNFPA has launched a campaign, backed by the Department of Health, the World Health Organization, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency, with a goal to eliminate teenage pregnancies in the Philippines by 2030. This initiative supports health workers in combating teen pregnancies, particularly in regions with high rates of teenage pregnancies like Samar and Southern Leyte.

The efforts include the creation of “adolescent-friendly facilities,” offering peer consultations, and providing information on maternal care and family planning. This proactive approach encourages young people to seek help, addressing the issue of rapid consecutive pregnancies after an early first birth.

The bill’s proponents and organizations like UNFPA agree that the fight against teen pregnancies should remain a priority in the Philippines, impacting the lives of girls, the nation’s economy, and the ongoing cycle of poverty.


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