Sen. Sony Angara
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.
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For many Filipino parents, teenage pregnancy is fast transforming from merely an adult fear to a sad and challenging reality. According to a July 2019 Commission on Population (POPCOM) statement, around 500 teenage girls now give birth every day, with a peak daily rate of 574 pregnancies in 2017. As of 2017, the Philippine Statistics Authority stated in their Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey that 9 percent of women 15 to 19 years old have already begun childbearing— that is, either they’re with child or have already given birth—with higher incidences registered in Davao, Northern Mindanao, and SOCCSKARGEN. Even more disturbing is that POPCOM officials say they are now looking at the 10- to 14-year-old age group, as 30 to 50 pregnancies in this group are reported every year, with a 50 percent increase since 2011.
Beyond the anguish and trauma suffered by young mothers and their families, teenage pregnancies also affect the community. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimate that young mothers lose P24 to P47 billion in earnings every year. POPCOM officials have noted that education and income are affected, as the possibilities of having to drop out of school and employment become very real.
The Department of Education states that the dropout rate of female out-of-school youths can be traced to teenage pregnancies. Of the more than 2.97 million dropouts in the PSA’s Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS), 61.9 percent are women aged 15 to 24 years of age who’ve stopped schooling due to “marriage or family matters,” a probable euphemism for teenage pregnancies.
The Department of Health, on its end, states in its 4th Annual Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Report that only 35.8 percent of teenagers aged 15 to 19 have access to any family planning method, while only 29.7 percent have access to modern methods.
These pregnancies may be the result of consenting sexual activity among teenagers, but can also be the result of sexual abuse, incest, and statutory rape. The Center for Women’s Resources reported that from January to October of 2016, 7,037 rape cases were reported nationwide. There is also the fact that the age of consent in the Philippines in 12 years old. While we do have laws that address sexual violence against children, specifically RA 7610 and RA 9262, perhaps more should be done or improved upon.
That brings us to the age of consent. According to article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code, “rape is committed even without the presence of elements of force, threat, intimidation, or fraudulent machinations, as long as the victim is under the age of 12 or is demented.” The Philippines has one of the lowest ages of consent globally, and this has provoked much debate, with bills in the Senate and House moving to change it to 16 or 18.
These are some of the reasons why we filed a Senate resolution to direct the appropriate committee to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation exactly on these matters, to strengthen the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RA 10354).
RA 10354 mandates that age- and development-appropriate reproductive health education be introduced in schools, including those concerning teenage pregnancy. And yet, other laws have certain inconsistencies teen pregnancy is involved. For example, the HIV/AIDS Prevention Law prohibits anyone below 18 years old from being tested without parental consent, and the same goes for the RH law when it comes to minors having access to modern family planning methods.
Statutory rape is gender-biased, too. If the victim is a male, then it is sexual assault, which has a lesser punishment. The defense of “I thought she was older” is still valid in some areas. We would also have to consider how changes in RA 10354 and other laws relating to teenage pregnancies will affect marriage laws, for example.
As you can see, teenage pregnancies touch on many sensitive topics in our culture and traditions. But that is also why we need to talk and debate about them, and then act. We should do no less.