Child rights advocates: 3 key bills needed to address abuse aspect of teenage pregnancy

This is a press release from the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD)

The Child Rights Network and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) called on the Senate and House of Representatives to swiftly pass three proposed bills that can comprehensively address the sexual abuse aspect of the growing problem of the adolescent or teenage pregnancy.

This comes after the Commission on Population announced recently that the rising incidents of teenage pregnancy in the country can now be considered a national emergency. The announcement is based on the results of the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll on Women Concerns and Family Planning which revealed that nearly 60 percent of Filipinos think that teenage pregnancy is the most important problem of Filipino women.

The latest figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) back these claims, with the PSA reporting that 62,510 children gave birth in 2019. In 2019, seven girls aged 10-14 years give birth each day, with a total of 2,411 births that year. PSA data also revealed that underaged mothers are generally sired by older men, with childbirth registration records in 2018 showing that children as young as 10 years old were sired by older men aged more than 60 years.

These figures should sound the legislative alarms and press Congress to swiftly address the roots of why children are having children, including the sexual abuse dimension. Immediate action is needed, as we fear that we are currently in a worse situation, as the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly compounded the issue.

Despite the grim scenario, Congress already has in its hands three potent bills that can help alleviate the situation: the Anti-Child Rape Bill, the “Prohibition of Child Marriage” Bill, and the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill.

Last December 1, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill 7836 which provides for stronger protection against rape, sexual exploitation, and abuse and increasing the age for determining the commission of statutory rape from below 12 to below 16 years. The landmark legislation contains potent provisions which include increasing the age to determine statutory rape from below 12 to below 16, equalizing the protection for victims of rape, whether a boy or a girl, and the removal of marriage as forgiveness exemption where the perpetrator is freed of legal responsibility if the perpetrator marries the person he raped. What is left for HB 7836 to pass into law is for the Senate to pass a counterpart bill.

Senate has already passed on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 1373 or the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill, which aims to provide equal protection for all children by declaring the facilitation of child marriage as illegal and punishable by law nationwide, and by introducing socioeconomic and culture-sensitive programs that create an enabling environment that can help foster protection for girls against child marriage. At the House of Representatives, counterpart bills, including House Bill 1486 filed by Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy and Rep. Edcel Lagman, House Bill 3899 filed by Rep. Alfred Vargas, House Bill 5670 filed by Rep. Veronique Lacson-Noel, and House Bill 7922 by Rep. Joy Tambunting, have all remained pending with the House Committee on Welfare of Children since 2019.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill No. 1334 or the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill, primarily authored by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, is pending before the Senate plenary. The bill seeks to develop a national program of action and investment plan for the prevention of teenage pregnancy, the organization and mobilization of regional and local information service delivery network for adolescent health and development, the development and promotion of age and development-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, the establishment of functional local teen centers for adolescent health and development, and social protection for teenage mothers or parents.

The passage of these three proposed laws, alongside the stronger and wider implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law and related statutes, will holistically address the emerging national emergency of teenage pregnancy. The whole civil society and the government must work double-time not only to expand the mantle of protection to Filipino children but also to tear legal barriers to the access of minors to sexual and reproductive health services.

We call on Congress to make these three bills part of the legislative priority list and ensure that soon, the tides will turn, with the end view of seeing an immediate future where Filipino children are not having children.