By Azenith Resurreccion
As of writing this, I am on my 34th week of pregnancy and it has been a tough experience as many situations on the island are not pregnant-friendly, with unfinished roads that make transportation unbearable for a high-risk expecting mother at 40.
I sometimes regret not having more babies when I was younger. They say it’s always those who are able to provide for a family that encounter pregnancy problems, than those who couldn’t care less.
Our house in Sitio Diniwid, Balabag is on an elevated area and I have to deal with a 200-meter uphill walk everyday coming home with a bulging tummy.
One late afternoon, I chatted with my new neighbors’ daughter, Jen (not her real name), who saw me taking a break in the middle of my “mountain” climb and mentioned she is also pregnant. I congratulated her and learned that she had her first baby when she was 16, followed by a son just last year and then now, she was having a baby again at 20.
She is jobless and just helping her parents selling fish at the neighborhood tiangge. She and her partner, her two kids, parents and two other siblings all live in a makeshift house where they moved into after they were displaced during the Boracay Closure.
I couldn’t help but wonder why it seemed to be so “easy” for them to be able to sustain their needs, and at the same time to reproduce. This story would seem cliché for some, but it is the stark reality for so many Filipino families living on Boracay; dealing with children having kids at an early age.
Teenage pregnancy, also known as adolescent pregnancy is pregnancy under the age of 20. In the Philippines, according to the Population Commission (PopCom), 24 babies are born to teenage mothers every hour, and almost 200,000 Filipino teens get pregnant annually, most of them from ages 15 to 19.
In the past four years, the municipality of Malay topped the list as having the greatest number of teenage pregnancy cases in the whole province of Aklan, according to Mr. Arbie Aspiras, RN, RM of the Malay Health Office (MHO) who heads the Adolescent Health and Development Program (AHDP).
The three barangays of Boracay Island also hold the top spot, having the highest cases of teenage pregnancies, between the ages 10 to 19.
The data shown below is from the previous years: 2016, 2017, and 2018. MHO AHDP reports that Barangay Manocmanoc takes a lead with an average that is twice as many than Barangay Balabag. Recorded cases in the barangay are somewhat correlative with the population. The decrease in number of cases in 2018 is attributed to the Boracay Closure as most residents fled out of the island due to loss of livelihood.
The 2019 report has yet to be released, however according to Aspiras, there is a continued decrease in the number of cases. He also added that the closure really made an impact on all aspects of life on the island and he is glad that teenage pregnancy is also affected in a positive way.
Local health workers believe that there is a need to expand accessibility of sex education and health programs to the youth of Boracay since these youngsters are easily exposed to all the environmental and social factors that lead to teenage pregnancy. In one of the seminars conducted by their office, an 11-year-old boy was given a condom and when asked what it was, he identified it as a balloon. The boy’s response simply showed that there really is a lack of proper education in these matters, thus, resulting in rampant pregnancy cases under 14 years of age.
These adolescent pregnancies are not generally caused by the female’s fellow age-mates, as some of their partners are already adults. All the more reason to educate young women and to provide them with proper tools and methods to equip them in their decisions before engaging in sexual acts with the opposite sex.
Although there have been seminars conducted in schools and at the municipal health facilities on the island, there is still a need for a proper venue to maximize these government programs. The MHO is working on their proposal for a Municipal Teen Center where the youth, from all walks of life (including the out of school youth like our young neighbor, Jen) and the young members of the indigenous groups can have easy and direct access to these programs.
This year, MHO AHDP Malay office, in coordination with Department of Education (DEP-Ed), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), PopCom and other NGOs, plan to further their campaign by establishing the Kabataang Malaynon Peer Educators Program that will be launched for the purpose of establishing point persons among the youth to act as guidance counselors to their peers and also function as training facilitators for seminars and issues awareness.
Since most schools and health facilities in Aklan province do not have professional guidance counselors and psychiatrists, this program will hopefully encourage student volunteers to participate and be part of the solution. They also target to address other issues concerning mental health, gender orientation, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS and STI.
With our growing population on the island, and the problems that arise with it, the government has to introduce more, if not emphasize effective programs that will help address these social problems. Many professionals believe that all education must start in the homes, through the parents or guardians of these vulnerable youngsters.
Now the challenge is how do we educate the parents? Will they be receptive to these programs?