The Department of Health’s campaign to distribute free condoms in public high schools has been criticized as one might expect in a conservative country like the Philippines, with attacks coming from both the church and in politics.
The Catholic Church predictably lambasted the move, with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) saying it “condones sexual activities among students”. In a similar note, perennial conservative Senator Tito Sotto also criticized the move saying it should be “illegal to encourage sex among students”.
What both those entities miss is that the move is a response to an epidemic that is not talked about in the country, but has grave societal and economic effects that require it to be addressed drastically.
Last year, a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) showed that the Philippines had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Asia. It is also the only country in the Asia-Pacific region where the number of pregnant teenagers actually rose, as opposed to the overarching trend of declining teen pregnancies.
The study cited the country’s conservative approach to sex, where public sex education and easy access to birth control both frowned upon in Filipino society. These approaches to family planning are heavily influenced by the dominant Catholic Church.
The result is a looming threat to the Philippines’ socio-economic stability, where youths who already struggle to find regular employment now have to shoulder the costs of raising a family. This also affects their education and leaves a strain in the country’s social welfare system.
Reading the statistics in depth, the situation becomes more damning. One in ten Filipino women between the ages of 15-19 have begun childbearing, which means that they either have children of their own already (8%) or are pregnant with their first child (2%).
Making birth control methods more accessible is a good first step to tackling this issue, but Senator Sotto and the CBCP have failed to see logic once again. As opposed to seeing the easy access of condoms as a proper safeguard for sexually-active teens to exploit, both parties see it as a blessing to be sexually-active instead.
What they fail to realize is that the increasing promiscuity of youths is a common trend seen all over the world, the Philippines included. This development is often attributed to the influence of pop culture.
Yet other countries do not have rising teenage pregnancies because they aim to prevent pregnancy as opposed to preventing sexual encounters. In other words, the youths of today tend to be more sexually-active than preceding generations whether free condoms are handed out or not.
Rather than attempting to prevent the inevitable, a better response should be to prevent undesired pregnancies from occurring – like what other countries are doing successfully. This is best done by a comprehensive sex education program in schools and making birth control methods accessible.
President Duterte is known for being unafraid to clash with dominant cultural forces, he should continue that by defying the Church’s wrong stance on sex education.