A study in the Philippines has found that the number of teenage girls who have become pregnant has more than doubled in ten years.
According to the nationwide study, around 14 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 are either pregnant for the first time or are already mothers. That is up from about six per cent recorded in 2002.
Florence Au-Yeung from Radio Australia interviewed Dr Josefina N. Natividad, Director of the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and Project Coordinator of The Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS) Study.
The latest Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study shows one-in-three youth aged 15 to 24 in the Philippines are having sexual intercourse before marriage, compared to 23 per cent a decade ago.
But 78 per cent of youth in the predominantly Catholic nation are not using any form of contraception or protection against sexually transmitted diseases when they are having sex for the first time.
The study's coordinator Josefina Natividad says a lack of awareness of the consequences of risky sexual behaviour is contributing to the rising rates of teenage pregnancies, as 14 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 are becoming young mothers across the country.
“I think that the very high level of teenage pregnancy points to the big gap between the behaviours of young people and the consequences of those behaviours, and so I guess our findings would be supportive of the idea that we should really be improving on sexuality education for young people and then maybe providing them with the services that they need in order to protect themselves from unwanted consequences of sexual behaviour.”
Professor Natividad says young people in the Philippines have limited access to sex education and sexual health services, especially if they are underage and unmarried, due to ongoing objections from the Catholic Church.
“You know, we are a very conservative society and there is a lot of opposition from the Catholic Church about the open use or advocating safe sex among young children because the belief is that this is against morality, so while maybe young people are changing in their behaviours, there is no corresponding education about how they should protect themselves from the consequences of the activity.”
Although president Benigno Aquino signed a Reproductive Health Law in 2012 to make sexual health services more accessible and to ensure mandatory sex education, the country's Supreme Court has delayed its implementation with a temporary restraining order, after members of the Catholic church and pro-life groups filed petitions against the law.
“It is very much a challenge because, for example, there was a law that was passed last, last year, but there is, because of the very strong Catholic lobby, the Supreme court issued an injunction against the implementation of that law, so one year after the law was signed it still hasn't been fully implemented because there's a very strong opposition.”
The Supreme Court's ruling on the law is now expected in April.Meanwhile, the nation's youth is becoming increasingly active on the Internet and their smartphones. One-in-four young people have sent or received sexually explicit videos through their mobile phone or the Internet, and four per cent have met their sexual partners online or through text messaging.
“We suspect that the change in the sources of influences, they affected in many ways the way that they deal with one another now with regards to sexual behaviour, because we've found for example that there's quite a number that would have met sexual partners through these new technologies, either through the internet or via the cell phone. So these are new ways of connecting that were not there before.”
Professor Natividad says young people are also largely influenced by the activities of their peers and this could be key to raising awareness about safe sex outside formal sex education programs.
“There is a lot of non-governmental work going on that is trying to engage young people, especially peer education, it seems like young people will listen to people of their own age, so there are many programs that try to tap into peers. Because the survey is also showing that if the young people have questions about sex, the persons they will tend to turn to would be their friends. So if we have programs on peer education, that is probably one way of reaching these young people, by having people their own age be the advocates for change.”