MANILA, Philippines—More than 5,000 babies have been born to underage mothers in South Cotabato over the past four years and population officials blame it on excessive media access, poor parenting, peer pressure and tribal culture.
The number of children born to mothers 17 years old or younger has steadily climbed from 4.22 percent of recorded live births in 2009, 4.84 percent in 2010, 5.25 percent in 2010, to 5.42 in 2012, the Provincial Population Office says in a report.
These comprised 995 babies in 2009, 1,262 in 2010, 1,369 in 2011 and 1,488 in 2012, or a total of 5,114, the report shows.
Incidence of teenage pregnancy is highest in towns with large ethnic populations. In fact, the youngest mother in the province was a 10-year old T’boli from Tupi municipality, population program worker Dwight Asentista said.
The report also says that most partners of young mothers were 18 years of age and older.
Romulo Palomo, population program officer in South Cotabato, underscored the need for a strong family relationship to prevent underage girls from taking “risky behaviors.”
“Parents play an important role in addressing multiple risk-taking sexual and non-sexual behaviors of teenagers, especially pertaining to teenage pregnancies, because the parents are the immediate environment of their children,” he said.
“With a strong relationship in the family, children would most likely not try risky behaviors,” Palomo said. “This is especially true when there is constant communication between parents and children.”
Aside from poor parenting, peer pressure and excessive media exposure are seen as major factors that drive children and teenagers to engage in early sexual activity.
In several towns of South Cotabato, culture contributes to the rising prevalence of teenage pregnancy.
Cases of early marriage have been highest in municipalities with large populations of indigenous people, particularly Lake Sebu, T’boli, and Tupi.
Over the four-year period, seven in every 100 children born in these towns have been conceived by underage mothers.
In July, a 10-year old T’boli girl from Tupi became the youngest mommy in South Cotabato, said Asentista.
Her marriage to an older man, Asentista said, was pre-arranged by her parents, a traditional practice still being observed in the province’s tribal communities.
To dissuade ethnic groups from early marriage, Asentista said, “We invite tribal leaders to our gender and development orientations and help them understand the perils their female tribal members face when they bear children at young age.”
The critical role of gender equality and women empowerment is emphasized in population education campaigns, said Joy Londres, also of the provincial population office.
“In this way, we help the participants, including the tribal leaders, understand that women are not born only to marry, bear children and stay at home,” she said.
Palomo hopes that with stepped-up responsible adolescent campaign and parenting seminars, South Cotabato will be able to curb early pregnancy.
The drive emphasizes values formation, which Palomo said is more effective when learned at home.
First posted 4:19 pm | Saturday, August 31st, 2013