When workers of government in population and development discuss challenges to overcome, what comes to mind is the current upswing in the number of adolescent mothers across the Philippines. So alarming is the trend that the current administration has already declared the situation as a social emergency of national proportions.

In the last five years up to 2018, an average of 62,000 minor children below 18 became first time mothers. The University of the Philippines Population Institute projects that this could increase by over 20 percent in 2021. If we do nothing, our communities will be caring for 75,000 Filipino minors who are both mothers and single heads of families.

Indeed, the state of early pregnancy in the country is a growing population and development concern. It is a well-established fact from recent studies that Filipina girls who give birth in their teenage years—some as young as 10 years old—are at a gross disadvantage in terms of finishing their education and their lifetime earnings, as well the comparative overall income of their families can be a third of what their peers who have avoided early pregnancy can earn. Thus, they are trapped in a predicament where their potential as productive members of society who can contribute to their community’s development, as well as society as a whole, is severely impaired. That is a heavy burden on the government’s anti-poverty drive, if we factor-in teenage mothers who, more often, belong to the marginalized group.

That many adolescents are bearing familial duties very early in life is an aspect that can be addressed by the full implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law and current proposed bills in Congress are intended to strengthen this aspect of the RPRH Law.

The initiative we are launching today is our answer to the call made last year by then-Secretary Pernia declaring teen pregnancy as a national social emergency, and we are calling on local governments, particularly city mayors and urbanizing municipalities to join this initiative.

The battle begins in many city and municipal hospitals where adolescents become first-time mothers, and we encourage mayors to set up programs to address this phenomenon with programs for first-time young mothers with services and support that extend beyond hospital walls and continue in urban and rural communities that shelter these young mothers.

While there are already numerous efforts in place, still, there is much that needs to be done and accomplished. That is why we at POPCOM are upbeat in our collaboration with the Zuellig Family Foundation and the Gates Foundation through The Challenge Initiative or the TCI. This undertaking will help and guide LGUs all over the country contain the alarming incidences of “Filipino children having children.” Now, more than ever, we need collective action to work with our local governments to solve this pressing issue that has been plaguing families. With the TCI, our LGUs will be better equipped in arresting this societal plague that has been driving masses deeper into poverty.

With that in mind, allow me to introduce our next speaker, who will talk more about the latest developments in the health sector on teenage pregnancy in the Philippines, as well as the current initiatives on AYHD. She is a member of the Department of Health’s executive committee and is the undersecretary for public health services. While currently leading the country’s vaccination efforts especially in this time of the pandemic, my counterpart from the DOH is better known as a champion of the cause of public health and overall well-being of our country’s young citizens. Please welcome, Dr. Myrna C. Cabotaje, MPH, CESO III, Undersecretary of Health.