Delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman during the Press Conference on the Adolescent Pregnancy Bills of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and RHAN on 29 November 2022
Pregnancy should invariably be an occasion for joy. It should not elicit dread or unhappiness in the prospective mother. For most women, a pregnancy is a long-awaited dream. But for adolescent girls, it may mean the end of their dreams. What should be a source of pride becomes a brand of dishonor and disgrace for unmarried adolescents. What should be a cause for celebration and cheer becomes a basis of castigation and criticism. What should be a forecast of life becomes a foreboding of death.
We are all aware how adolescent pregnancy and childbearing bring tremendous social and economic costs on young mothers and their children because of both the immediate impacts and long-term consequences on their health, education, employment opportunities, and general wellbeing.
I have been saying this for some time now: Adolescent mothers should be relics of the very distant past when early childbearing was the norm.
We are living in the 21st century, not in the Middle Ages. No child should have to undergo the trauma of pregnancy and childbirth. No child should be forced to grow up overnight to care for another human being when she herself should still be under the care of an adult. No child should place her life at risk to give life to another.
The World Health Organization has stated that pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death in adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide because young girls’ bodies are not ready for pregnancy and childbirth and a great percentage of adolescent mothers are less likely to seek lifesaving prenatal and postnatal care.
Moreover, babies born to teenage mothers face more than just greater health risks. An academic paper entitled “Risking the Future: Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Childbearing” reports that: “It is clear that being a child of a teenage mother often entails numerous risks: low birth weight, complications of the mother's pregnancy and delivery, and health problems associated with poor perinatal outcomes; greater risk of perinatal death; lower IQ and academic achievement later on, including a greater risk of repeating a grade; greater risk of socio-emotional problems; a greater risk of having a fatal accident before age one; and finally, a greater probability of starting one's own family at an early age.”
These are indeed grim findings. The adolescent mother, according to numerous studies, does not fare much better.
While the immediate impact of early pregnancy and childbearing may be felt on the young mother’s health due to medical complications that may arise during pregnancy and childbirth, there are also numerous and serious long-term consequences.
Due to early pregnancy, many young girls fail to finish basic education, lack adequate skills for remunerative work, and are economically vulnerable, thus perpetuating inter-generational poverty. It must be underscored that one of the most reliable predictors of future poverty is early childbearing.
In the study “Teen pregnancy: effect on family well-being”, the authors list the following long-term consequences of adolescent pregnancy: “lowered educational achievement, medical complications, higher subsequent fertility, low labor force participation, reduced earnings, a lifetime of economic stress and limited opportunity, and marital failure.”
The major deleterious consequences of early pregnancy and childbirth also have a multiplier effect that cascades to the national economy.
Adolescent pregnancies negatively affect the economy with a yearly average of P33-B forfeited revenues due to “lost opportunities and forgone savings” consequent to early childbearing. Most adolescent mothers remain unemployed and unproductive. The government also spends billions of pesos annually for the health care of pregnant teenagers, adolescent mothers, and their infants.
Consequently, the country also fails to reap the benefits of a demographic dividend from the potential of a huge young population.
In 2020, a Social Welfare Stations survey revealed that Filipinos consider teenage pregnancy the “most important problem of women today”. The National Economic Development Authority and PopCom have described the teenage pregnancy situation as a “national social emergency”.
Perforce, policymakers and implementors must solve this alarming emergency.
There are clear and established methods on how to address the serious problem of adolescent pregnancies. The major programs and strategies to prevent adolescent pregnancies must include: (1) age and development-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education; (2) access to contraceptives by adolescents; and (3) comprehensive and adequately-funded legislation.
There is critical immediacy in enacting a law not only on the prevention of adolescent pregnancies but also one that institutionalizes social protection for adolescent parents and guarantees funding for programs for young mothers and their children like House Bill No. 79 which this representation has filed for the second time.
Legislating a comprehensive law on preventing adolescent pregnancy is imperative to institutionalize policies and strategies on eliminating or mitigating adolescent pregnancy, and extend social protection to adolescent mothers and their infants.
Verily, enacting a law preventing adolescent pregnancy will save young girls from the clutches of maternal death, unemployment, and poverty, and improve their future and reinforce their self-esteem.
In 2020, the UNFPA reported that the “Philippines has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates among the ASEAN member states.” It documented that “more than 500 Filipino adolescent girls are getting pregnant and giving birth everyday”.
We must not and cannot let our guards down. We must strengthen our resolve to effectively prevent adolescent pregnancy and childbearing even as we reinforce our commitment to continue to lower the current national adolescent pregnancy rate.
I thank the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network, with whom I worked very closely with for the enactment of the RH Law, for leading the fight against children having children.
When children give birth to children, a light dies inside them.
Children giving birth to children is anathema to our crusade for women’s rights and the fight for gender equality and equity.
When children give birth to children, it is an indictment of society’s failure to protect, promote, and fulfill the basic human rights of young girls to remain children and to be able to play and study, have hopes and pursue ambitions, and have control over their own futures.
If we are to truly uplift the lives of women, we must start by improving the future of young girls.
Let us enact the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy Bill now!