HB 341: protecting teens from unwanted pregnancy

Two lines changed Mina’s and Bryan’s lives. Two lines that showed on the pregnancy test kit that confirmed the presence of a baby.

Mina and Bryan came from broken families, struggled to get by, and longed for love. They found each other, and were four months into the relationship when they started having sexual intercourse. They thought condoms and pills would be enough for Mina not to get pregnant. Mina was 18 while Bryan was 17 when a baby came into their lives. She was a high school graduate while he was a high school dropout.

They are just one among many teenage couples who engaged in premarital sex that resulted in unwanted pregnancy. According to the National Statistics Office (NSO), there was a 65% increase on teenage pregnancy rate from 2000 to 2011 notably observed among girls aged 15 to 19. Only 38% of them reported delivering their baby.

Seeking ways to stop the growing rate of teenage pregnancy, Laguna 3rd District Representative Sol Aragones filed House Bill 341 or the Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Responsibility and Opportunity Act. The proposed law seeks to  stop the rapid increase in teenage pregnancy incidence through authorizing the Department of Health (DOH) to allow local educational agencies, local public health agencies, and non-profit private entities to provide education on preventing teen pregnancies.

Prevention is better

According to Aragones, a too-early childbearing “increases the likelihood that a young woman will drop out of high school and that she and her child will live in poverty.” She hopes to prevent similar situations because, “[s]tatistically, the sons of teen mothers are more likely to end up in prison. The daughters of teen mothers are more likely to end up teen mothers too,” she said.

The Philippine Constitution, under Article 2 Section 13, provides that “[t]he State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social wel-being. It shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs.” It is this clause that served as the foundation of HB 341.

The Bill addresses teenage pregnancy prevention by stressing the need to institute projects that provide education on preventing teenage pregnancies. This is possible through age-appropriate education on “factually and medically accurate, complete, and scientifically-based” information, with emphasis on encouraging teens to delay sexual activity.

In Bryan and Mina’s case, it was Bryan who urges or initiates sexual intercourse. He was confident that pregnancy would never happen because he asked Mina to take pills. But his knowledge on contraception was limited.

“Naka-condom naman ako. Pero nung huli na di nako nag-condom… [kasi] umiinom na si Mina ng pills,” (I always wear condoms whenever we do it. But the last time we had sex, I no longer used a condom since Mina was already taking pills.) he said. They later found out it was not enough precaution.

In a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2002, it was found out that boys and girls become sexually active at the age of 15; that more boys start having sex earlier than girls their age; and that contraceptive use was low. It is this very scenario that the proposed law seeks to address. According to WHO, the low level of contraceptive use was “influenced by social class and education levels.”

In the Philippines, based on information from the Family Health Survey, insufficient access to information about sexual health and reproductive health services is a reason for unwanted pregnancy.

Education about pressures of parenting

Aragones also proposes that the government provide “educational services and referrals for sexually active teens or teens at risk of becoming sexually active,” to tell these teens about the risk of their sexual behavior.

Mina, for example, planned to take up a two-year course at the National College of Science and Technology. Being the eldest child in the family, she was supposedly “pag-asa ng pamilya” (the hope of the family) to rise from poverty. When her family found that she was carrying a baby, “[i]tinakwil nila si Mina,” (They disowned Mina) according to Bryan. It was hard for the family to hear the words “buntis po ako” (I am pregnant).

Mina and Bryan were equally disappointed with themselves because they knew, even then, that they wouldn’t be able to provide their baby’s needs.That was when abortion became an option. But the pregnancy continued, and Bryan immediately took the responsibility of being a father. He worked as a bakery assistant, a market boy, and an illegal factory worker. Later, when he could no longer provide for his family, Mina left him to be with an older man who had a stable job and could provide for Samantha.

Parents communicating with teens about sexuality

In the book “Focusing On Kids,” Sonestein et al said it is not only girls who should be educated about responsible parenting; boys should be included for the following reasons: (1) It takes two to create a pregnancy; (2) Boys and men should be held responsible for their sexual behavior – just because they cannot get pregnant does not mean they should be irresponsible; and (3) Boys and men want to be more responsible about their sexual behavior.

Teens with absent parents seek advice from friends about sex, while those with strong attachment to their parents, Aragones said, “are more likely to become sexually active at a later age. Seven out of ten teens say that they are prepared to listen to things parents thought they were not ready to hear.”

A population officer interviewed at Sunday Punch on August 12 said that: “With the high number of teenage mothers or parents, we are creating a society dependent upon their parents instead of a society that is striving to succeed in their lives.” Mina easily fits into this category of teens depending on someone older in order to support her child.

While 36.7% of young Filipinos believe that  “early sexual encounter is acceptable in society,” as National Youth Commissioner Percival Cendaña said, Aragones hopes to make available services that can persuade teens to delay sexual activity, and teach them about responsible decision-making. (Andrea Joyce Arbues)

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