VERA Files reports need for sex education, reproductive health services
CHEERS to VERA Files for calling attention to the dismal state of reproductive health care services and sex education, especially among Filipino youth. The report by Nica Rhiana Hanopol, highlighted the need for the creation of “Kai” – a knowledge platform on sexual health.
A Philippine non-profit organization, the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health developed “Kai” – short for Kaibigan — as a facility to answer questions about reproductive health.
The platform was originally a 2016 project of two Canadian doctors, and was funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiative and the Foundation for the Advancement of Clinical Epidemiology. Likhaan took over the project in 2019 and in 2020, made Kai available to the public on Facebook and Google, and received an estimated 2000 inquiries.
The report presented the issues to which Kai responds. Dr. Junice Demetrio-Melgar, executive director of Likhaan, described the “taboo” status of discussing sexual matters openly. And Likhaan program director Alfred Melgar noted the need for a non-judgmental source the youth can turn to for credible answers regarding sexual health.
The account featured Princess Luat, who, at 19, was wary of going to the pharmacy to ask for contraceptives because of the looks given girls who do so, and instead relied on her boyfriend to buy these for her.
The article quoted Alfred Melgar, who stressed that primary and secondary schools should be the “backbone” in a person’s formal sex education.
VERA Files also presented the following graph sourced from the platform:
The visual above covered data recorded from November 8, 2021 to December 7, 2021. Of the 79 responses recorded, the top inquiry was about contraception.
The report did well to expand the scope of the issues, moving from the personal to the public frame of problems. VERA Files presented a separate graph that showed the number of women aged 15 to 19 struggling with unplanned families.
Citing the January 2020 United Nations Fund Policy Brief, the report called attention to the rate of adolescent pregnancies: 500 per day among adolescent Filipino girls aged 10-19.
These alarming numbers, as well as apparent confusion over subjects as fundamental as pregnancies and contraceptives, spotlight the dismal failure of government institutions, particularly the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Education (DepEd), to these concerns. In 2018, DepEd issued policy guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which directed teachers to facilitate education on sexuality and sexual behavior. The order was in support of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RA 10354).
VERA Files pointed out that the government has since admitted that these efforts have been insufficient. In June 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order 141 which specifically aims to stem the rising number of teenage pregnancies.
In conclusion, VERA Files included an issue embedded in the crisis of the pandemic, to which Kai is admittedly only a limited response. The projections by the University of the Philippines Population Institute in October 2020 show unintended pregnancies for 18,000 women aged 15-19 as a result of “quarantine-induced [health] service reduction.”
The impact of the pandemic on early pregnancies should have been obvious from the beginning, but government was oblivious to one of the unintended outcomes of the one of the longest lockdowns in the world. The projected number of pregnancies should be taken seriously and discussed in terms of the needs of the children and young mothers, and their economic impact in the long term.
VERA Files has done well to initiate coverage of these and related challenges. Unplanned pregnancies for thousands of adolescent females is a matter that should be discussed now, not after the pandemic.