In the observance of “Linggo ng Kabataan,” the Department of Health (DOH), Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) and National Youth Commission (NYC) have joined together to enable conversations among Filipino youth centered on pressing issues currently affecting them, particularly those concerning teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and mental health problems.

The celebration, which culminates in a joint virtual event on August 19, Thursday (2 PM),  serves as a platform for Filipino adolescents and youth to engage with each other, along with experts and medical professionals, in accessing appropriate health information, training, and services enhancing their abilities to come up with informed decisions on their health and other development concerns. It also focuses on the following priority areas and messages:

Kalusugan ng kabataan pangalagaan; Safe sex, pag-usapan! Despite the decreasing trend of registered births among those 15 to 19 years old, the adolescent birth rate in the country remains high, as it exceeds the Asia Pacific average of 35 and comes close to the global average of 50, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Given this, the State recognizes that engaging young people into discussions on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) will make them more involved in related programs and initiatives. It can enhance their knowledge on Sexual and Reproductive Health towards practice of safe sex, better health-seeking behaviors and access to ASRH services without discrimination.

Teenage Pregnancy, wakasan; Isulong EO 141! In a Senate hearing last year, Undersecretary for Population and Development Juan Antonio Perez III disclosed that almost 500 Filipino youths gave birth daily in 2019. These include about 40 of those 10 to 14 years old every week. On average, he said there are around 64,000 minors, or those who are below 18 years old, who give birth annually.

Recognizing its far-reaching implications, President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 141 declaring as an urgent national priority the implementation of  measures that address the root causes of adolescent pregnancies, and calling for a whole-of-government approach. The “Linggo ng Kabataan” creates the opportunity to raise awareness among the stakeholders and the public in general on the important role of every individual and institution in addressing this complex phenomenon besetting young Filipinos.

As a manifestation of its support, the  NYC approved a Resolution creating a Strategic Nationwide Plan to address teenage pregnancy in the country as a “National Social Emergency.” According to Chairperson Ryan Enriquez, the proposed plan is envisioned to augment the implementation strategies of the Philippine Youth Development Plan 2017-2022, specifically on the thrusts of the identified Health Center of Youth Participation that ensures the practices of healthy lifestyle, as well as responsible sexual and reproductive health.

“The NYC, as the agency mandated to protect the welfare of the youth, cannot just monitor the glaring statistics, but would rather support the implementation of relevant plans to curb the rising percentage of teenage mothers, and to promote activities that would encourage the youth to think twice before engaging in risky sexual behaviors,” quips Enriquez

HIV-Free Pinas For You(th) and Me! As of January 2021, 25% of HIV cases reported were among Filipino youth 15 to 20 years old. There is also a “condom lag” in the same age bracket, as reported in the HIV Strategic Plan of 2020. The country’s HIV reactivity rate, or a reconfirmation of HIV infection tests, continues to increase within the young key populations, making the youth vulnerable to other forms of STIs as well.

In most cases, HIV education usually starts after the age of 20. Stirring ethical and inclusive HIV discussions and engaging the youth in pursuit of an “HIV-Free Pinas” will open safe spaces that provide HIV services and information specific to the young key population.

You(th) Matters: Care for Yourself, Care for Others. Adolescents going through a crucial phase of transition from childhood to youth deal with various changes within themselves and the environment they live in. Physiological and psychological changes expose them to threats and risks of unhealthy mental conditions that affect their total wellbeing.  As of 2020, there are 3.6 million Filpinos who suffer from mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorders. Engaging adolescents into healthy and productive discussions and activities enables them to channel their energies into positive dispositions and behaviors. Moreover, seeking appropriate help and referrals ensures their mental health.

Perez said it is important that the youth have freedom to become the individual persons they want to be, and that they be provided with accurate and relevant information that enables them to make better choices and decisions.

“We must ensure that our youth are well informed and educated on issues that concern them to enable them to choose their health and wellbeing.” the POPCOM chief pointed out. “As a lead government agency championing ASRH, together with the DOH and NYC, POPCOM shall ensure that our youth will figure prominently in our programs and policies, knowing very well that the future of our country rests on the quality of young citizens we will raise.”

USec. Enriquez, meanwhile, mentioned that the NYC has conducted webinars on mental health that are intended to provide awareness on support systems for mental health that are available for young people conducted by peer-to-peer or P2P coaches trained to empower their peers through collaborative thinking and problem solving.

“The webinars also serve as means for NYC to celebrate diversity and the uniqueness of each young person who learns the value of mental health and well being,” Enriquez adds.

“We want to give the youth the freedom to be who they want to be by helping them choose healthy options for themselves that extend to other people, their families, and their communities. It has been embedded within the Filipino culture that our youth is the hope of our future. Thus, our Filipino youth have to be empowered today. Dapat malaya silang maging para sa kanilang sarili, para sa kanilang Masayang Pamilya, at para sa isang Healthy Pilipinas.” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.