Maternity deaths, unplanned pregnancies, domestic violence worsen amid pandemic in PH – groups

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 29) — Several non-government organizations have asked legislators to look closely at the impact of the COVID-19 quarantine measures to women and children.

NGOs including Oxfam Philippines, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development said child marriage, violence against women and girls, maternal deaths and unintended pregnancies have worsened because of the quarantine restrictions imposed by the government amid the pandemic.

Various groups presented current issues and suggested reforms before the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality on Tuesday.

Unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths

According to the UNFPA, the reduction in health services due to the disruption of mobility and transportation due to quarantine measures will lead to a 26-percent increase in maternal deaths and 18,000 additional teenage pregnancies this year.

"There will be 60 additional maternal deaths for every month of the community quarantine – an estimated 666 additional deaths if such measures were to continue until the end of the year," said Aimee Santos, UNFPA Chief of Gender in the Philippines.

Santos said 5.168 million or 67 percent of Filipino women of reproductive age 15 to 49 are unable to access family planning services. This will result in 751,000 more unintended pregnancies. In total, the study commissioned by the UNFPA showed there could be 2.560 million unintended pregnancies by end of the year, of which 751,000 were added due to limited health services.

Of the respondents in the study, two out of five women said they cannot access contraceptives, while three out of 10 women have limited access to prenatal delivery services.

“At the minimum, we need to ensure that essential reproductive health services continue and the services are adapting to quarantine conditions and providing work arounds because people are still having sex, women are still having babies, pregnant women are still in danger of dying during childbirth," Santos said.

Increase in violence and abuse

But not all pregnancies are due to consented sex. Nenita Dalde of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development said many rape and incest cases remain unreported.

"Because of the lockdown measures, women and girls became more vulnerable to abuses that alarmingly happen inside their own homes, and some of them are even perpetuated by their own family. Even worse, the current crisis adds another layer of barrier to reporting, response and for preventive programs to progress as the health and security sector focus its attention on the current public health crisis,” Dalde said.

Meanwhile, Jane Pura of Plan International said their survey on over 25,000 young women also showed there is increased reports of sexual harassment online, circulation of lewd photos and videos and online sexual exploitation.

“There is lack of awareness on where and how to report cases. Girls who reported cases online and offline are not aware of what happened to these cases. They also said the authorities did not respond to their reports,” Pura said.

The UP Population Institute study commissioned by the UNFPA also projected around 12,100 cases of physical and/or sexual violence against married women per month due to coronavirus-related quarantine. The report said 144,000 women aged 15 to 49 are experiencing sexual or physical violence by their husbands or partners. However, many are less likely to seek help or report domestic violence to the police.

Santos said several organizations are also providing alternative ways to report domestic violence, including a platform where women can only call for help via text message and find a nearby shelter.