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The Commission on Population XI, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), shall be celebrating World Population day on July 11, 2016.

This year’s theme, “Investing in Teenage Girls,” highlights the need to help our female adolescents realize their potential by opening doors of opportunity for them by pushing for their rights to a  proper education, the provision of comprehensive and holistic reproductive health services and the promotion of their welfare through adolescent friendly initiatives and programs.

Worldwide, teenage girls continue to battle various risks to their health and happiness. These include early sexual initiation, pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, and early motherhood.

According to the 2015 data provided by the UNFPA, 20,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each day in developing countries. 10% of girls who have had sex before age 15 have said that they were coerced. While various threats have lessened their chances at achieving a full life, our female adolescents are not fully equipped to deal with the consequences of risky lifestyles. Suicide has been noted as the leading cause of death among girls between the ages of 15 and 19. The second leading cause of death among those in the same age bracket has been identified as complications of pregnancy and child birth.

Similarly in Davao Region, the numbers tell an alarming story.

In the Young Adults Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS) 4, an increase in teenage fertility has been spotted, putting the region at 5th nationwide with 17%, higher than the national average of 14%. Of 960,000 Davao Region youth, 42,000 or 18% of females aged 15-19 have begun childbearing, compared to 8% in 2002. 3% of females from the same age bracket are pregnant with their first child, while a whopping 14% are mothers. Both show a marked increase from 2002 with 2% and 6% respectively.

These findings can be attributed in part to the fact that 44% of female youth from Davao Region have sexual experience. 38% have engaged in pre-marital sex, a giant leap from only 15% in 2002. 2% of female youth aged 15-24 have had sex before age 15, while 30% in the 18-24 age bracket have had sex before age 18. The age at which females had their sexual debut has also become younger at 17 years old, in contrast to 19 years old as recorded in 1994.

As of 2013, 38.5% or 370,000 of Davao Region youth have engaged in pre-marital sex, compared to 23.2% in 2002. This places Davao Region as 3rd highest in the country, significantly higher than the national average of 32%. Of this number, 295,000 or 8 in 10 participated in their first pre-marital sex encounter without any form of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancies.

The numbers reflect an emerging issue—the need for more intensive strategies to address risky sexual behavior at the home, school and community level. This becomes all the more evident when backed by the regional data. Only 5% or 1 in 20 youth has discussed sex at home while growing up, 2nd lowest in the country. 59% or 3 in 5 don’t have any source of info about sex, 2nd highest in the country, and only 39% can find help in school regarding sex-related problems, 2nd smallest proportion nationwide.  Suicide amongst Davao Region youth is also a cause for concern, with 12% having ever thought of ending their lives, 3rd highest in the country, and 3% or 3 in 100 youth having ever made attempts, placing 6th nationwide.

The Juniors’ Responsibilities on Gender and Adolescent Development (JRGAD), an innovative strategy under the Adolescent Health and Youth Development Program (AHYDP) of the Commission on Population XI, seeks to provide the youth with key information and life skills in dealing with the many issues they face in this day in age.

One of its major offshoots, the operationalization of teen centers has been viewed as a tremendous support to adolescents, allowing them to avail of counseling services offered by organized peer groups which can help delay the onset of early sexual exposure, pre-marital sex and hence, teenage pregnancy. Trained peer counselors have shown a remarkable ability at harnessing the potential of the youth and have succeeded in reaching out to both friends and classmates during a state of vulnerability and need, thereby enabling troubled youngsters to make decisions which are most beneficial to them. By supporting this mechanism of “teens for teens” or “peer-to-peer,” more adolescents, especially teenage girls, stand a chance of claiming their futures and achieving their dreams.

Our young females, the wives and mothers of the coming generation, should be constantly empowered, engaged and provided support to capacitate them and help them actualize their potential. A tomorrow blossoming with promise should never be traded for the appeals of the flesh. As the adage of the Commission goes, “Ang pag-aaral ay para sa hinaharap, ‘wag ipagpalit sa sandaling sarap.” Our teenage girls have their whole lives ahead of them to grow into the women they ought to be.  

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