Christine, Dianne, and Anna have been friends long before they learned how to read and write. From varying school crushes that were often the center of their conversations, the three girls now share a different experience — motherhood.
At 15, Christine Dela Cruz spends her morning looking after her six-month-old baby boy in a walker. “Getting pregnant wasn’t hard. It was the giving birth and what comes after that made me want to cry sometimes,” she said.
Christine stays with her mother, who runs a sari-sari store in the barangay of Dela Paz in the municipality of Clarin, Misamis Occidental. She’s lucky, she said, to have a family that supports her and the baby. Meanwhile, Christine’s boyfriend, a 21-year-old boy, works in his family’s small sari-sari store to occasionally provide for the baby’s needs.
“At first, of course, they were mad, but eventually, they learned to accept it. Now, they’re enjoying looking after him,” she said.
Getting pregnant in their town is not uncommon. Almost everyone they know was or is pregnant. When Christine’s circle of friends knew about her pregnancy, there was no comment from anyone.
“It’s as if it’s the most normal thing in the world,” she said.
In August, just three months after Christine gave birth in May, her friend Anna, 17, conceived her own baby boy with her 27-year-old boyfriend she met through her cousin.
“The whole experience was difficult. Just when I thought it was over after giving birth, the challenges of motherhood have just begun,” Anna said,
One of the struggles for teenage pregnant girls like Anna is letting go of their youth to face an adult responsibility no one prepared them for. There are many days she would have wanted to go out with her friends, but couldn’t.
Joining their “batch,” as they would call it, is Dianne, who’s currently six months pregnant after having sex with a 20-year-old man she met online.
“I didn’t have any idea what sex means or that what we were doing was actually sex. I thought you’d just meet in the dark, and that’s it,” she said.
Dianne and her partner now live with her grandfather, whom she grew up with after her parents left her and her siblings when they were just infants.
They heard of a community-based orientation on teenage pregnancy hosted by youth peer educators of the National Rural Women Coalition (Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan) or PKKK.
“Actually, we were able to go to one, but we were already pregnant when we went,” Dianne said, scratching her head.
The rollout of PKKK on teenage pregnancy was hindered by the government’s protocols, allowing only 20 attendees for mass gatherings during the height of the pandemic. This has resulted in fewer teenagers being informed about teenage pregnancy.
For Christine, Dianne, and Anna, that was the only time they learned how they got pregnant. “We wish we knew about it sooner, but the pregnancy is a blessing we’re willing to struggle for, just like every teenage mother I know,” Christine said.
The issue of normalizing teenage pregnancy
The normalcy of teenage pregnancy in the town of Clarin is one of the major issues facing the youth, according to PKKK Youth Peer Educator Khyle Sabellano.
“For many teenagers, especially those younger than me, sex and intimacy are trends they want to experience without thinking about the consequences when it’s done irresponsibly. They see a lot of their peers getting pregnant, so it becomes normal for them,” the 19-year-old student leader said.
Prior to joining the pioneer batch of PKKK Youth when he was just 15 years old, Khyle was already actively pushing for addressing gender-based inequality, HIV, and teenage pregnancies. “It was through the SHE project that I got to learn more about my advocacies. I am now equipped and more confident on what I am sharing with my fellow youth,” he said.
The Sexual Health and Empowerment (SHE) project seeks to empower women and girls to secure their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in six disadvantaged and conflict-affected regions of the Philippines. The project is supported by Global Affairs Canada.
Khyle was adopted by a strictly religious family in the town of Clarin. His uncle is active in the Catholic Church, making it even harder for him to be accepted as part of the gay community, and much more for his advocacies on teenage pregnancy, safe sex, and decriminalization of abortion to be whole-heartedly embraced.
“Religion is a conflicting factor to what I’m doing. It’s like I am being tied to what I should believe in. My family knows that I’m doing this, but I’m not sure if they’re supportive,” Khyle said.
Youth Peer Educators
For the past four years, Khyle has learned the ropes of how youth issues in Clarin must be addressed. From leading orientations for teenagers on human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV), teenage pregnancy, and safe sex, Khyle and the rest of PKKK Youth are developing future Youth Peer Educators to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the advocacy.
So far, they have conducted symposiums on teenage pregnancy, child rights, and HIV in all 12 barangays of Clarin.
Extending their efforts further, PKKK Youth is lobbying for the local government unit to push for a resolution that would provide sustainable help for teenage moms.
“Hopefully, once passed, teenage parents will be given financial help and livelihood opportunities,” Khyle said.
Known for their passion and service to the community and the youth, PKKK Youth was recognized by the provincial government as one of the outstanding Youth Peer Educators in the province of Misamis Occidental as well as by the Municipality of Clarin as part of the Youth Buddy Organization for actively helping the youth.
“This is all because of the SHE project that taught and immersed me well to the realities around me. Honestly, if not for SHE, I would not have gained my sense of purpose,” he said.
One of the realities that shocked Khyle and made him determined to advocate for safe reproductive health was the presence of HIV cases in his small town. The Department of Health tallied 200 HIV cases in Misamis Occidental where the town of Clarin lies.
“I thought, how can this happen? Clarin isn’t even a city and people are meek and quiet, but we see a lack of knowledge and fear. Some are even scared to get contraceptives from the local government,” he said.
“When I began emerging with different communities, I realized there are different reasons why the issues of teenage pregnancy and HIV are rampant. I saw that sex education is not [a] one-size-fits-all method. It’s not applicable to everyone. The approach done in one place is not necessarily applicable to others,” he added.
Being a Youth Peer Educator is an effective approach to connecting with the youth and addressing their concerns.
“This is why we need more youth to be involved. Not only to make sure our advocacy goes further but also for the program’s effectiveness. It makes the conversation more open, and learning is more relatable,” he said.
For someone as young as Khyle, going beyond himself is his passion. It can be any of his peers that might fall victim to these issues, he said, and that’s what keeps him going.
“A lot of the youth around me do not have the same privilege and enjoy the same rights that I do. So, I won’t until stop I see everyone enjoying what they deserve,” he said.
The SHE project is supported by Global Affairs Canada with 11 implementing partners, namely Al Mujaadila Women’s Association Inc (AMWA), United Youth of the Philippines Women (UnYPhil-Women), Mayon Integrated Development Alternatives and Services (MIDAS), Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP), Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), Sibog Katawhan Alang sa Paglambo (SIKAP), University of the Philippines Women and Gender Studies (UPCWGS), Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), Davao Medical School Foundation-Institute of Primary Health Care (DMSF-IPHC), FriendlyCare Foundation, and Jhpiego, the technical service delivery partner of the SHE Project.