UNFPA report links PH teen pregnancy to women’s rights

CALAMBA CITY, May 25 (PIA) - The right of Filipino women and girls to decide over their own sexual and reproductive health remains unclear as adolescent pregnancy becomes a matter of national social emergency in the country, the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) reports. 

During the launch of the 2021 State of the World Population last May 19, in partnership with the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), UNFPA Representative to the Philippines Dr. Leila Jouane underscored the challenges women face in enjoying their right to bodily autonomy, especially in the Philippines. 

“The Philippines fared better as women have the power to decide on contraception and healthcare. However, we can see disparities across age, income, and location still exist,” Joudane said. 

‘My Body is My Own’

This year’s UNFPA State of the World Population (SWOP) report highlighted the legal, economic, and social barriers to securing bodily autonomy that would have allowed women and girls to ake their decisions over their own welfare. 

According to the same report, 20 countries have “marry your rapist” laws where rapists escape punishments by marrying their victims, denying survivors an opportunity to attain justice. 

With only 55 percent of Filipino girls and women who are able to make their own decisions concerning their own welfare, the Philippines records the fourth highest maternal mortality in Asia. By global standards, it also ranks 54th out of 79 countries in the world in terms of promoting maternal health. 

Bodily autonomy and teen pregnancy

Population experts believe that adolescent pregnancy has become a national, social emergency as the Philippines records one of the highest adolescent birth rates among ASEAN countries, where 47 for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 years old give birth. 

“For women and girls, the decision making power is not always realized or respected,” Joudane admits, as very few girls and women enjoy their right to body autonomy, or those who have the means to determine their lives and future free from violence. 

This lack of body autonomy, as exemplified by the culture of child marriage in some parts of the Philippines,  is also one cause for the rising number of teen pregnancies in the country. 

“In many of our laws, we tend to limit women’s rights and it is changing the gender equity laws that we can make it possible for women to exercise their rights,” POPCOM Executive Director, Usec. Juan Antonio Perez admitted. 

“POPCOM’s analysis reveals a degree of abuse. Many young FIlipinas are also subject to archaic practices, such as arranged marriages,” he continues, citing the ‘very timely’ SWOP reports as the nation tackles the rising number of unplanned pregnancies among the youth. 

Aside from being mothers at an early age, Joudane said child brides are also prone to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) where they experience abuse at the hands of their partners or spouses. 

“Humanitarian crises negatively impact women’s bodily autonomy because our social system break down,” Jouane said, citing the 2017 Marawi siege has made child marriage a negative coping mechanizem for families. 

Since the COVID-19 related quarantine began, UNFPA said that 12,000 additional IPV cases have been reported each month.  (PB) 

Source: Philippines Information Agency (pia.gov.ph)

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