MANILA – The country incurs PHP34 billion in economic losses annually due to the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy, former health secretary, Dr. Esperanza Cabral, said.

Since these teenage girls become pregnant early, they are unable to complete their secondary education and thus cannot contribute much to economic activities, said Cabral, who also chairs the National Implementation Team of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law.

She noted that the number of girls aged 15 to 19 years who became pregnant more than doubled from 2002 to 2013, while those who had their first child increased from 1.9 percent in 2002 to 2.6 percent in 2013.

"We are worried about this increase in early childbearing because it has a reflection on many things in society, including the socio-economic status of these children or young women, as well as their ability to be gainfully employed and contribute to the economic activities of the country," Cabral said during a dialogue on the gains and challenges of reproductive health in the Philippines, five years since the enactment of the RH Law, held at the Sulu Riviera Hotel in Quezon City Monday.

In her presentation, Cabral showed that girls who drop out of high school due to early pregnancy earn a daily wage of PHP46 at age 22; PHP147 at 32; and PHP213 at 42, much lower than girls who are able to finish high school who earn PHP361 per day at age 22; PHP469 at 32; and PHP548 at 42.

Teenage mothers are usually left with no choice but to take care of their children, Cabral said, blaming the high teenage pregnancy rate on the lack of adequate information on reproductive health, as well as the low prevalence in the use of family planning methods, despite the presence of the RH Law since 2012.

Only 23.5 percent of women in the country use contraceptives, she said, emphasizing the importance for young people “to be free to access family planning services without interference from their parents”.

“That's something we cannot do yet but something we hope will change in time," she said.

The two-day event, "5 Taon, 5 Hamon", aims to discuss the challenges of the full implementation of the RH law and make recommendations on how to address gaps in policy and implementation. (PNA)