The ripple effects of teenage pregnancy

The recent revelation by Undersecretary Lisa Grace Bersales of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) that pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 14 in the Philippines have surged by 55 percent since 2019 is more than a statistical concern—it is a red alert for the nation’s future.

The precipitous increase in teenage pregnancies, especially in such young adolescents, poses significant health risks and economic implications that could reverberate through generations.

Scientific research unequivocally shows that teenage pregnancy carries high risks not only to the health of the young mother but also to the child. Adolescents are not yet physically primed for childbirth, leading to higher incidences of obstetric complications like eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections.

Moreover, the World Health Organization states that the global leading cause of death for females aged 15 to 19 are complications from pregnancy and childbirth. The physical ordeal is just the tip of the iceberg; the psychological impact of teenage pregnancy can be profound, often resulting in interrupted education, reduced employment opportunities, and a perpetual cycle of poverty.

The economic toll of teenage pregnancy cannot be understated. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has reported that economies can lose billions due to the lost potential of teenage girls thrust into motherhood.

For developing countries like the Philippines, where education and economic empowerment are pathways out of poverty, teenage pregnancies can significantly hamper the nation’s growth. The demographic dividend that could propel the country towards a more prosperous future is diminished when teenagers are unable to complete their education and contribute productively to the economy.

Early childbearing has a compounding effect on societal costs, including increased health care and social support services, and potential income loss. A study by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) underscores that if a girl under the age of 18 has a child, her likelihood of completing schooling drops, which in turn reduces her employment prospects.

Furthermore, children born to very young mothers are at a higher risk of slower cognitive development and poor educational outcomes, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of poverty.

The roots of the problem, as CPD-Western Visayas Director Harold Alfred Marshall noted, lie in the premature exposure to technology, peer influence, and lack of access to comprehensive sexual education. The Internet, while a valuable resource, is rife with misinformation that can mislead impressionable youths seeking guidance. Thus, the importance of credible and accessible sexual education is paramount.

The CPD’s intervention strategies, such as DepEd’s comprehensive sexuality education and initiatives like the “Ahlam Na!” app, are steps in the right direction. But they are just starting points.

A holistic approach that involves parents, educators, health care providers, and policymakers is critical. Education systems need to prioritize comprehensive sex education that empowers youths with knowledge about their bodies and informed decision-making. Health systems must ensure that adolescents have access to reproductive health services, including contraceptives and counseling.

Finally, societal attitudes towards teenage pregnancy must shift from stigmatization to support and prevention. It is essential to create a social milieu where adolescents feel empowered to take charge of their reproductive health without fear or shame. Collaborative efforts across various sectors of government, aligned with community engagement, can create the necessary safety net to address and prevent teenage pregnancy.

It is an issue that requires urgent attention, thoughtful intervention, and sustained commitment. The future prosperity of the nation depends on the health, education, and empowerment of every young individual, and with each teenage pregnancy, that future is placed in jeopardy.