Govt further pushes for sex ed as younger girls get pregnant

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — Is sex education among teenagers still a taboo?

The government is still trying to break barriers, nine years since the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 was passed.

Among the critical aspects of the law is the integration of responsible parenthood and reproductive health education in schools.

But until today, Lolito Tacardon, deputy executive director of the Population Commission, said many adolescents have limited or no access to proper information on their reproductive health. And while there is a decreasing trend in teenage pregnancies since the law came into effect, adolescents bearing children are getting younger.

According to Tacardon, the implementation of the RH Law has been “very gradual” due to “several legal barriers and administrative concerns” on the part of government agencies.

Still, he said, there have been considerable progress, including a decline in the overall trend of teenage pregnancy.

“Actually, ang 2017 is already 8.6% na lang from 10% nung 2013…pinakamalapit sa baseline sa time na na-enact ang Reproductive Health Law. Remember, malaki ang legal barrier sa implementation ng RH law, and it took several years before it was fully implemented,” he told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: Actually, the percentage was only 8.6% in 2017, from the 10% in 2013. This is the nearest to the baseline during the time the Reproductive Health Law was enacted. Remember, there’s a large legal barrier in the implementation of the RH law, and it took several years before it was fully implemented.]

Ang nag-emerge na issue na lang ngayon is medyo bumabata ang mga nabubuntis… Ten to 14 for example,” Tacardon added.

[Translation: The issue that has emerged now is that younger girls get pregnant... Ten to 14, for example.]

A 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey showed about 2% of teenage girls aged 15 to 19 already had sex before turning 15 years old. A separate survey in 2017 found that 18% of women aged 25 to 49 had sex before they turned 18. A PopCom data showed teenage pregnancy rose by 7% in 2019, which could affect their health and education. Some of these girls are also victims of sexual abuse.

Tacardon said teaching adolescents about reproductive health and sex education will not only help them take care of their own body, but also how to recognize and protect themselves from sexual abuse.

“The greatest barrier… within context of sexuality education na pino-promote [that is being promoted] is provision of age-appropriate information in regards to sexuality. One of the barriers is level of knowledge about sexuality nila [their sexuality]...changes in body, particularly skills to take care of their body, to refuse and recognize sexual abuses,” Tacardon said during the launch of the iCHOOSE #MalayaAkongMaging campaign on Wednesday.

The campaign is exploring different platforms to engage and educate adolescents about their health and development.

He also recognized that many teenagers are still hesitant to talk about sexual or reproductive health topics at home or in school.

That is why the Department of Health (DOH) is also putting up more adolescent-friendly health facilities—a place where teenagers can more confidently seek consultations regarding reproductive health issues. There are currently 704 of these facilities nationwide.

These are especially needed as some young people are intimidated to go to a health facility and fear being judged even by healthcare providers, said Dr. Cheng Gavino, OIC-director of the DOH disease prevention and control bureau.

To address this, she said the department has been training health workers to be more gender- and youth-sensitive.

Some parents are also hesitant to discuss sexual topics at home due to cultural and religious beliefs, Tacardon said.

That is why there is also a need to educate parents to help prevent judgment and discriminatory attitude when it comes to reproductive health matters, said Director Jocelyn Andaya of the Department of Education's Bureau of Curriculum Development.