by xirtaidem acebron

Editor's Note: Xirtaidem Acebron is a 14-year old student at Pedro Guevara Memorial National High School in the town of Sta. Cruz, province of Laguna, Philippines. She writes stories when inspired, and so, below is one of them. Her goal is to finish Junior High School with high grades while enjoying life and having time to hang out with her friends.

One of the most common social issues that most countries experience nowadays is the unplanned parenthood of young women ages 19 or younger, or what we know more as ‘teenage pregnancy.’ Teenage births can result in health risks in both the mother and the child, giving them postpartum depression (for the mother), low birth weight, and preterm birth (for the child). Teenage pregnancies can also cause increased rates of low educational level, alcohol and substance abuse, and low earnings in possible teen parents.

What is the cause of teenage pregnancies? There are many reasons and causes. Some are unavoidable, but some are not. As a teenager myself, I think that the most avoidable cause of teenage pregnancies is the lack of information about sexual and reproductive health and rights.

To lessen the lack of knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexuality education can be used. Sexuality education, more known as ‘sex ed,’ teaches us about human sexuality, reproduction, sexual activity, human sexual anatomy, and other more topics related to the ones mentioned previously. It can help improve the knowledge and attitudes related to sex and sexuality of young and/or inexperienced people like teenagers.

I first heard about sex ed when I was in elementary. I was a campus journalist so our school paper adviser required us to watch the news and to be aware of the latest issues in the Philippines and in foreign countries. I was watching the news when I heard about the issue of teenage pregnancy. I saw it as a big problem so after finishing the news program, I went straight to Google and searched for ways to prevent teenage pregnancy. That was when I started reading about sexuality education.

There was this one time when I was 13 years old, if I remember correctly, I was eating with my family members at one of our relatives’ birthday party and the adults were talking about someone’s daughter who got pregnant at an early age. They began talking about teen pregnancy and chastity and all that. Her age was pretty close to mine (if my memory is correct, she was 15 or 16) so I thought, I, as someone who was sitting in the same table with the adults, could voice out my opinion.

In our family, saying our opinions was normal and accepted so I was able to talk easily. I said that I believe that having sexual intercourse even before marriage was not a bad thing, chastity is not an obligation, after all, but I do believe that contraceptives and safety measures must be used to prevent unplanned pregnancies. My cousin (who was much older than me) asked me how I knew that and the other adults looked at me as if I just did something improper and I almost broke out in cold sweat due to my nervous, loud-beating heart. Good thing my uncle was there and he defended me by saying that it was normal that I knew that because they were taught in our school (sexuality education is not really actually taught in our school, though) and because I was an enlightened and well-informed child.

After the party ended, I reflected on my actions and wondered if my words were inappropriate. I went home and talked to my brother about it, asking him if what I did was too improper. He answered no, and said that there was nothing wrong with knowing about sexuality education. He even complimented me for knowing about sex ed, because not everyone my age knew about it.

I was proud that I knew about it as if it was such a big accomplishment, because it was not every day that my brother complimented me. He was not the type to say kind words to me, but that time, he did. I was aware of how sexual reproduction occurs, I was aware of what sexuality was, I was aware of the things that a person can do to avoid early pregnancy, and I thought of myself highly for knowing those things, and I could not help but remember that girl that my family members were talking about and imagine what she could have felt when she looked at the two lines in her pregnancy test. Was she or was she not aware about contraceptives and safety measures?

Population and Development Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez of the Philippines said that the increase of teenage pregnancies may reach a conservative estimate of 62,510 by the end of 2021, but has a possibility of reaching 74,000 births this year due to the continuation of the lockdown in the country. Laos, another country in Southeast Asia, also has a high adolescent birth rate according to their latest Social Indicator Survey, with nearly one out of ten Laotian girls giving birth between the ages of 15 to 19. In Thailand, statistics from 2019 indicated that an average of 169 children were born each day to 15-19-year olds, making up a total number of 61,685 adolescent births. Still, as of 2021, the United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of all developed nations. Arkansas, with 30 teen births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19, earned the top spot in the 10 states with the highest teen birth rate, according to the data gathered by the World Population Review.

In my country, the Philippines, the Department of Education (DepEd) issued Policy Guidelines on the Implementation of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) last 2018. Its aims are to establish a basic understanding of CSE key concepts and messages and to ensure clear implementation of protocols in the CSE. It was also issued to improve the holistic wellness of Filipino adolescents and to equip them with complete information and appropriate life skills that can promote gender equality and empowerment, enhance their sexual values and attitudes, and to reduce health risks among youths.

A study by Donkor and Lariba in 2017 about the impact of sex education on teenage pregnancy in basic schools of Bawku Municipal District in Ghana was conducted to explore how sex education could lessen teenage pregnancy in the Bawku-East Municipality. 139 respondents were used for the study and they were given questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions, and were observed by the researchers to collect data. Results revealed that the major causes of teenage pregnancy in the study area were poor parenting, poverty and peer influence. In addition to that, hiding sex education and sex-knowledge made the youth more curious and vulnerable about those topics. The researchers concluded that parents and schools are needed to help equip the youth with knowledge through sex education in order to overcome the corrupt information they might absorb through the social media and friends.

I live in a country where sexuality education is not taught as a main subject, but merely part of science courses. If it was, I honestly believe that teenage pregnancies here would not be as high as they are now. This is why I think sexuality education should be taught as a separate course to students, preferably those in junior high school to college, because in my opinion, they are the most suitable age groups to learn about this. I am not claiming that being taught about sex ed will completely get rid of teenage pregnancies or will make the cases drop to at least half compared to now, but it will at least make our youth more aware about ways we can prevent unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancies. Sexuality education is not that necessary, but it is important.