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Reproductive health education, vital to preventing teenage pregnancy during the pandemic

“Teenage pregnancy is unplanned, but not necessarily unwanted, and unplanned pregnancy means no regrets.”

These are some of the findings presented by Dr. Gloria Luz M. Nelson, Professor of Sociology, University of the Philippines Los Baños, from the study of 18 teenagers from nine provinces in seven regions in the Philippines who are pregnant, mothers, or are both pregnant and are mothers at the same time, during the COVID 19 pandemic crisis.

When asked how it is to be a mother, teens responded that being a mother means a source of joy, excitement and inspiration. No one had attempted to abort or commit suicide.

Majority, except one, however, expressed regret over being pregnant, “Napakaboring, ‘di ako makalabas, di ako makagala. Kain, tulog na lang ako…mag isip ng mga bagay na walang kwenta, makipagchismisan sa mga kasama ko sa bahay, mangarap ng napakalalim na imposibleng nangyari.” (It is boring, I cannot leave the house to roam around. Eat, sleep only…vague thoughts, gossiping with my housemates, dream big but I know it is impossible for it to come true).

Further, these teens view pregnancy as a consequence of having a boyfriend and that sexual abstinence and use of contraceptives are not being practiced. Also, for those interviewed, being intimate is an expression of love and respect.

While the study cannot provide a general conclusion, given its small sample size and the qualitative method employed in the study, it however, provided vivid descriptions and meanings of the experiences of the Filipino pregnant teens during the COVID 19 pandemic crisis.

The stories told by the teens show that family members, partners, husbands, relatives and friends are the main source of financial and emotional support of the teenagers. Most of these teens are not currently enrolled but have plans to continue their studies since they are aware that education can help provide a better future for their children.

Nelson cautioned, though, that the study is bias towards teens with access to cellular phones. The in-depth interviews that lasted for over an hour, were conducted via Facebook Chat or Messenger, and this leaves out those who did not have access to communication devices. Nelson further shared that most of the time, cellphones are not for the exclusive use by teens but for the use also of other members of the households.

From the researcher’s perspective, the situation of teenage pregnancy and teenage mothers means facing multiple burdens that include the following: having a low to no income, lack of education, less employment opportunities, and health risks for both the mother and the unborn child.

In a related study in 2020, it was estimated that two million Filipino women, 15-49 years old, are expected to get pregnant due to COVID-19 lockdowns, and 10 percent of these pregnancies will come from those below 20 years old.

One of the recommendations of Nelson and Gonzales is to urgently implement an age-appropriate comprehensive sex education, which according to them is not a privilege, but a right of the youth to know about reproductive health from the right sources. Nelson, added that sex education does not only mean teaching the youth on the proper use of contraceptives, but includes rational planning in terms of the following: when they want to have kids, how many they want, how many years of interval between children, and learning to say” No” over sexual advances.

For his part, Gregorio E.H. Del Pilar, NRCP President, emphasized the importance of qualitative research, such as this, which gives people the knowledge on the range of varying experiences, instead of the trends commonly provided by quantitative studies.

The study, the 7th in the Kapakanan ng Tao sa Oras ng Pandemya-COVID (KTOP) webinar series, was viewed by over 300 participants, some of whom came from the House of Representatives, Commission on Youth, Department of Social Welfare and Development, National Security Council, and Population Commission. KTOP is a basic research promotion initiative of the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP). (Geraldine Bulaon-Ducusin, S&T Media Service)

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