MANILA - They say mother knows best. But this is not the case in terms of teaching sexuality and reproductive health to their adolescent children.
Save the Children Philippines, an independent children’s organization, believes most mothers are not equipped with the right information and communication skills in discussing sex education.
“Ang mga magulang, may kaalaaman sila sa adolescent sexual and reproductive health kasi pinagdaanan nila ’to,” Dr. Miel Nora, technical advisor on Adolescent Sexuality and Reproductive Health of Save the Children Philippines told ABS-CBN News.
(Parents know about adolescent sexual and reproductive health because they went through it.)
“Ang sinasabi sa study, 85 percent alam nila ang tungkol sa puberty changes, romantic relationship. Pero ’pag idi-discuss nila ito sa kanilang mga anak, medyo reluctant sila. Hindi nila alam kung kailan ituturo,” he added, referring to the group’s baseline study in 2017.
(A study says 85 percent of parents know about puberty changes, romantic relationships. But they are reluctant to discuss it with their children. They don’t know when to teach that.)
Lack of sexual education was seen as one of the reasons why the Philippines has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Asia.
“Kasi nga (It’s because) we see sex and reproductive health topics at home taboo. Kultura na ’to (This has become our culture),” Dr. Nora explained.
Sex at an early age
According to the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study conducted by the Demographic Research and Development Foundation Inc. and the University of the Philippines Population Institute, the proportion of youth aged 15 to 24 who had early sexual encounters increased from 23 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2013.
Meanwhile, the proportion of adolescent girls who had begun childbearing has been rising rapidly with age, from 1 percent at age 15 to 22 percent at age 19, based on the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
The 2013 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey report of the PSA identified marriage as one of the top reasons for not attending school at 12.9 percent in a survey done among young people 6 to 24 years old.
Nora blamed misconceptions about sex and reproductive health that parents had failed to correct.
“’Pag hindi alam ng isang bata na ang vagina niya o penis ay nakapaselang bahagi ng katawan, puwede itong hawakan ng kahit sino kasi parang okay lang,” he said. “Doon nagsisimula ang abuse at exploitation sa bata.”
(When a child does not know that her vagina or his penis is a very sensitive part of the body, just anybody can touch it because it seems ok. That’s when child abuse and exploitation starts.)
Based on the NDHS in 2013, one in every 10 girls aged 15 to 19 got pregnant every year.
At least 22 percent of maternal deaths were among mothers aged 15 to 24 years old, according to the latest data from the Department of Health.
It added that 20 percent of those who give birth at 15 to 17 years will get pregnant again the following year.
Nora said babies of teenage mothers face the risk of neonatal deaths, or when the baby dies within the first 28 days of life usually due to premature birth, 3 times higher compared to babies from mothers aged 25 to 29.
Mothers should know
The Department of Education last year ordered the establishment of a Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) policy to teach age-appropriate and culture-sensitive sex education topics.
“In order to effectively address the needs of the learners for health and protection through education, CSE is designed to ensure that the learners are receiving comprehensive and appropriate information that can advance gender equality and empowerment. CSE has been shown to increase learners' knowledge, clarify their values and attitudes, and develop the skills to reduce risks related to poor health outcomes and achieve their full potential,” read part of the policy.
But for Nora, mothers are still the best teachers for their children about this matter.
Based on Save the Children Philippines’ 2017 baseline study, “very young adolescents” aged 10 to 14 preferred to get information on sexuality and reproductive health from their mothers.
“Hindi dapat school lamang ang nagtuturo, kinakailangan ang magulang nagtuturo din sa loob ng bahay,” he said. “Kapag nagtanong ang bata, dapat marunong ding sumagot ang magulang nila. And that was the big gap.”
(It’s not just the school that should teach, the parents should also teach at home. When children ask [about sex and reproductive health], their parents should know how to answer.)
Nora said if only mothers would learn how to be communicative about such a sensitive matter with their children, it could somehow address the rising cases of highly-dangerous teenage pregnancy and help children reach their full potential.
“Dapat dagdagan ang session tungkol sa reproductive health sa family development session ng DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) at magkaroon ng bukas na ugnayan ang mga pribado at pampublikong eskuwelahan sa pag-communicate sa mga magulang,” he said.
(We should add sessions about reproductive health in the family development session of the DSWD and there should be open communication between private and public schools and [students’] parents.)