Covid makes young people vulnerable to abuse, reproductive health risks — POPCOM chief

By Phil Muslims

The negative impacts of the pandemic on health and wellbeing have spread far and wide among members of the Philippine population, and its adverse effects have crept to the level of Filipino adolescents, according to the Commission on Population and Development’s (POPCOM) executive director.

Speaking before a global audience at the recent ECOSOC Youth Forum on World Health Day, Undersecretary for Population and Development (POPDEV) Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH disclosed that the Philippines, as a country currently under community quarantines, has witnessed the health crisis greatly bearing down on young people’s sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

In the forum, POPCOM’s head cited numbers from the 2020 study of the University of the Philippines and the United Nations Population Fund, which revealed a 42-% increase in unintended pregnancies, and a 67-% hike in unmet need for family planning among Filipino women. From these numbers, he said more than 1 out of 10 are still in their teens.

“These adolescents have no decision-making power, economic independence, autonomy, and are considered by many countries as powerless; they face greater risks of repeat pregnancies and are vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) as well as intergenerational poverty during, and as a result, of their early childbearing,” described Perez of the sector of Philippine society susceptible to the scourge of Covid-19.

He shared the experiences of the country’s young citizens aspiring to have access to information and services on SRH as a fulfillment of their constitutional rights. Currently, this provision is withheld from Republic Act 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law of 2012.

 “Young people need to have access to safe, trusted and reliable information integrated into services ensuring health, protection and psychosocial support,” Perez continued, as he explained that isolation and physical-distancing measures stemming from the pandemic’s safety protocols may be limiting the capacity of the youth to exercise their rights, which may eventually lead to their discrimination and exclusion from decision-making processes.

Addressing these concerns, Perez revealed that POPCOM will be spearheading a social protection program for adolescents who have become parents, especially the “first-timers” during the pandemic. He said the Philippine government will strive to meet their needs constantly and comprehensively through constant communication with the young heads of families.

Saying that young citizens’ wellbeing should be among every nation’s priorities and concerns, Perez called upon countries to implement a societal approach, which considers adolescents as among those vulnerable in the community. This is possible, he said, through multidimensional sources of protection, such as social safety nets, social insurance, social assistance and the possible provision of livelihood in labor markets.

“These elements will ensure young people everywhere will have meaningful participation and safe spaces during these times, as the pandemic unleashes a host of challenges to be collectively met,” the POPCOM chief remarked.

“Let us sustain partnerships with young people through initiatives that leverage on efforts in adolescents’ SRH,” Perez exhorted. “We believe that a strong and sustainable recovery is possible only if our young citizens are reached and included in this process.” PR


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