MANILA — The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Monday said it committed to tackle with the Philippine government the country’s high adolescent birth rate.
The UNFPA and the Philippines are united in its vision to "stop child marriages, help adolescent girls to regain their education...and to avoid falling pregnant through ignorance until they make the informed choice to do so," said the international agency's executive director Natalia Kanem.
“The big issue which the UNFPA will tackle in concert with government in the upcoming period is high adolescent birth rate. Among the ASEAN states, we see that the position of the Philippines has made us realize that childbearing of young women is taking a toll on them as an individual and also on society as well,” she told reporters.
The country has "one of the highest adolescent birth rates" among Southeast Asian nations, according to a UNFPA policy brief in 2020.
In 2020, adolescent birth rates were at 31 per 1,000 girls, lower than 47 per 1,000 in the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
The Commission on Population and Development (Popcom) said it was aiming to halve teen pregnancies this year from a baseline of 57 every 1,000 births in the 2013 NDHS.
"Every year around the world, more than 7 million babies are born to girls who are mere children themselves. And this is a global issue, a national issue, a local issue. This is an issue for all of us," Kanem said.
The Philippines ranks 12th globally in the number of child marriages, she added.
"The reason for adolescent pregnancy is unspoken. The girl did not agree to sexual activity, she was coerced. It is up to the UNFPA, responsible members of the media, religious leaders, educators, mom and dad to check in with this young person to make sure their rights are not being violated," Kanem said.
"When we train girls to be silent, this is a prescription for disaster," she said.
Educating women and preventing unintended pregnancies will allow them to contribute to national development, Kanem said.
"Our aspiration is not just for women and girls alone. Women and girls are the backbone of our society, What’s good for them is going to be good for the nation," she said.
"You can imagine unleashing the potential when women are free from sexual physical, emotional harm of violence."
The country needs human and financial resources for family planning, said Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of the Likhaan Center for Women's health.
"We need to sustain the resources needed by women who are availing of family planning. We now have 8 million women and couples using family planning. It was 2 to 3 million in 2013 when we started implementing the RH (Reproductive Health) law," she said.
"We doubled the number of users. The resources…human and financial resources need to be doubled."
Addressing adolescent pregnancy is included in the Philippines' commitments during the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 2019.
Other targets include achieving zero maternal preventable deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero harmful practices including child marriage.