Philippines Baby Glut

Since 2004, there has been a sharp decline in the use of government-provided contraceptive services in the Philippines so that more and more Filipino women have no choice but to forgo contraception primarily because of the cost, in a country whose population is exploding.

According to a study conducted by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute and the Manila-based Likhaan, a nonprofit reproductive rights NGO, supplies of public-sector contraception services dropped from 67 percent in 2003 to 46 percent in 2008.

"Thus, more women are now relying on the private sector to obtain modern contraceptives, which means higher costs and reduced access, particularly for poor and low-income women," the Guttmacher Institute said in a statement announcing the release of its study.

It traced the decline to the decision by the United States Agency for International Development to stop providing free family planning supplies to the government and, more importantly, "the Arroyo administration's reluctance to replace it with a viable national public program."

"Access to contraceptives for poor women now depends mostly on the ability and willingness of local government offices to support these services. Local governments can purchase contraceptives and include family planning services at their discretion as part of their public health functions if and when their limited budgets allow for such spending," the institute said. The problem is, it added, "to date, few have done so."

The importance of free, government-provided contraceptive services cannot be over-emphasized in a country like the Philippines, where women often go to extreme lengths to prevent pregnancy because of poverty. In the face of the inexorable opposition of the Roman Catholic Church, the Philippine population is one of the fastest growing in the world. It is estimated that 3,000 Filipino babies are born every day, 100,000 every month, or one million a year.

Unfortunately, you have a Roman Catholic Church that frowns upon artificial contraceptives and actively campaigns against these, short of condemning these women to hell for even thinking about not having additional children.

And all it can offer as an alternative are "natural family planning methods" that are known to fail. Worse, it even tries to block efforts to teach sex education to children. The Church, according to this Associated Press report, insists that sex education "should be the primary responsibility of parents. If it is taught to students, it should not start in grade school but in college."

Such assertion is flawed on at least two levels. First, many Filipino families don't have parents because either one or both of them work abroad. As it is, the absence of these Overseas Foreign Worker parents has taken a toll on these children; denying them the venue to learn about sex and responsible sexual and reproductive behavior is simply outrageous. If these are not taught in the classrooms, where does the Church think they go to learn these things?

Second, as studies have shown, sexual activity among Filipino youths starts at a very young age, often while still in high school. Also, risky sexual behavior often starts when they are already in college, as this study show. It makes sense therefore to start teaching them young.

Carlos Conde blogs at Dateline Manila for Asian Correspondent, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement.