The Barriers to Sex Education and Contraceptive Use in the Philippines

One of the most divisive political issues in contemporary Filipino history is the Reproductive Health Bill (RHB). Despite President Aquino claiming to support ‘responsible parenting’ legislation in response to burgeoning class sizes, 14 years after this  legislative bill was drafted,  it seem unlikely to come before the house anytime during this congress.

he RHB seeks government endorsement and provision of age appropriate sex education programmes alongside access to     modern forms of family planning rather than the focusing on the natural methods currently promoted. As things presently stand, despite a pilot attempt sex education remains extremely limited, and is in some cases extremely misleading (often in rural areas where it is provided by the church). In a country where HIV statistics are rising, unsafe abortions result in the annual hospitalisation of 79,000 women annually and a population crisis looms.

[quote align=”center” color=”#b64736″]Despite these troubling statistics, the Church and it’s influence in the Philippines continues to obstruct the implementation of the RHB.[/quote]

80% of the population identify themselves as Catholic, allowing the Church a significant agency in the state and day to day lives of the nation. The Catholic church in the Philippines continue to oppose the RHB and any promotion of contraception, arguing that sex should be solely for reproduction and decrying contraception as being akin to abortion.

As a result of these Church invectives, emergency contraception has been banned in the Philippines since 2001, and further to this within Manila it was illegal  to sell any form of contraception between 1997 and 2005 – the result of an executive order. Due to difficulties in obtaining contraception and as a consequence of poor sex education 560,000 women terminate pregnancies annually in a country where anything except abortion for extreme medical reasons is illegal.

A study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 54% of all pregnancies in the country are unplanned. Given that only 29% of abortions are obtained from medical pregnancies this means a large number of them are carried out as illegal, unsafe ‘backstreet’ abortions. The RHB is designed to help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies through education and contraception, which in turn would directly result in a fall in the number of illegal abortions carried out in the Philippines each year, in turn reducing the number of women suffering severe health complications and in 1,000 annual cases; fatality.

A further complication arising from the embargo on the provision of sex education and contraception is a rising HIV population. As of 2010 the Philippines was one of just seven countries worldwide to report a sharp rise in HIV statistics, one of only two in Asia. And many suspect figures may be even higher than reported. The government states rising HIV figures in Thailand despite their ‘condoms for all’ campaign as a reason not to promote contraception, claiming it encourages promiscuity and therefore increases STI transmission. Without political will, these statistics will only continue to rise.

[quote align=”center” color=”#b64736″]With both poverty and population growth pressing and serious problems, it is vital that the Church engages in a dialogue with the state about finding a realistic and timely solution – something the RHB would neatly provide.[/quote]

Given the very public negative response of the Catholic church to Aquino’s comments on responsible parenting, and the immediate act of congress to delay the bill, the impetus will fall on the government who step up to take the responsibility of putting the wellbeing and health of its population first and foremost over the interests of an increasingly restrictive extreme doctrine on reproductive health and sex education.

by Olivia Whitworth

Image: Reuters

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