By Sara Grace C. Fojas
As of Aug. 1, 2015, the Philippines has a total population of 100, 981, 437, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Ten million of this are girls aged 10 to 19, and 10 percent of that are already mothers or pregnant with their first child. Teenage pregnancy is no longer a rare occurrence among the younger generation and it is our duty to combat this—to prevent it from happening, to raise awareness, to educate the community, and to provide support to these very young parents.
To help these young girls (and boys), Babaenihan was created, inspired by the Filipino words babae and bayanihan, through the efforts of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) for women empowerment, under the latter’s anti-poverty flagship program, Angat Buhay. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the urgency of addressing the teenage pregnancies through investments in education, health, and economic opportunities.
“We believe that as a community, we need to resolve and prevent the issues that relate to young girls like teenage pregnancy. Babaenihan has several components. The main component is the community level talks together with the OVP. The feedbacks we get in these talks will be relayed to the national level such as policy makers and government officials, through OVP, so that we can resolve these issues,” says Klaus Beck, UNFPA country representative.
It is a platform that calls action from the public and private sectors as well as civil society to urgently tackle this problem affecting girls through national-level talks, community-based, and local government engagement. The campaign’s community-based talks throughout the Philippines will enable the participation of marginalized young girls and provide them opportunities to shape the direction of the campaign itself.
“We want to focus on 10-to-19-year-old girls. We want them to maximize their potential, so we want to hear from them about the challenges they’re facing, particularly teenage pregnancy. We don’t want to create programs where we dictate upon them. We want to create programs with them, where they are the ones who tell us what they think is the assistance they need,” says Vice President Leni Robredo.
From Home to School to Government
During the grand launch of Babaenihan that happened in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Klaus and Leni stressed that in order for teenage pregnancy to be prevented, good communication is necessary within the family, where the children can easily confide to their parents about relationships, marriage, and sex.
“It’s not an easy topic to talk to your children about. If ever your child comes to you, and I hope they would, that’s already very good that means they feel confident in you and they are willing to ask you that question and how you handle that is very important because if you tell them ‘later’ or ‘it’s too early,’ then most likely your child would never come back to you and ask you that question. When it comes, you give them an age-appropriate answer, because it provides an entry point to talk about relationships and how you prepare yourself on the day you have sex. If you don’t know something, you can research it together. Be open and never shut down the conversation,” says Klaus who has two daughters.
With this mindset, the campaign also advocates for proper education and awareness of the reproductive health law in schools.
“We really need to empower young girls and educate them because sometimes it’s not because they want to have sex that they become involved in this situation but they are under pressure either from the boy or their peers. Sometimes, we are afraid to give information to people because we are worried what that information might do to them. As parents or as teachers, we feel that when we share information about sex or relationships we are afraid we would have the effect that young people would go out and immediately have relationships and sex. Evidence doesn’t show that, evidence shows that if you are really informing young people, they are more likely to wait and to have sex later and engage in relationships. We have to be brave enough to face that fear in ourselves as parents and as educators and as government,” says Klaus.
The campaign doesn’t only help prevent teenage pregnancy but also assist in supporting young parents to become better individuals even though they started parenting young.
“Support is very crucial. If you get pregnant early, that’s not a good thing but it’s not also the end of the world. If somebody as young as a high school student gets pregnant, the support of the community is needed, especially from the parents and the school. We need to encourage the young mother to still go to school and still finish her studies. Her classmates also shouldn’t put more stigma than what is already there. We have seen young people that got pregnant at a young age but still pursued studying and got very successful afterwards,” says Robredo.
Leni also shares that there are a lot of opportunities for the local government to be involved in the campaign, especially in the barangay because the residents can easily come to them whenever they have a concern.
“We have the Barangay Council for Protection of Children (BCPC) that can institute or organize conversations to reach out to the younger generation. They can start it as a program in the schools in their community. Fighting off teenage pregnancy is a community fight. It’s not just the fight of the young people, not just the fight of the schools,” says Robredo.