Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In the Daughters of Charity compound in Parañaque, a group of girls gather in the development center. Linking arms as they walk, the girls talk calmly — without the high-pitched giggles that teen girls usually fill rooms with. After all, they aren’t talking about schools and crushes; instead, the girls are exchanging stories on how to raise their babies.
It’s a situation that’s shared by many young women in the country. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, one in 10 Filipina teens aged 15-19 is already a mother. Likewise, almost 60 percent of the girls who drop out of school do so because of “marriage or family matters.” The Department of Health (DOH) also attributed early pregnancy to several factors, including peer pressure, having a broken family, lack of parental guidance, and curiosity.
Teenage moms are exposed to more health problems as compared to women who become mothers in their later years, teens tend to have shorter intervals between births, and the fact that their bodies are not as fully developed for childbearing presents more risks, including death. To exacerbate this issue, more than a quarter of teenage moms here do not give birth in health facilities.
There are several government programs aimed at supporting teenage mothers, including the Department of Health’s Adolescent Health and Development Program, which provides several health services and trainings for teenagers. The Department of Social Welfare and Development also has a program for Solo Parents where they provide livelihood, education, and psychological support. Other institutions working on this issue include the National Youth Commission and the Commission on Population, among many others.
However, in a country where being a woman is already a challenge, being a teenage mother earning a meager income is an immense struggle — one that cannot be sustained without any continuous and significant support from both the community and the government.
CNN Philippines Life talked to three girls who shared their stories about their experiences.
Raiza Lasquites, 15
At first glance, you’d think Raiza was simply carrying her one-year-old brother to the development center. However, baby Jhonrich is Raiza’s own son, who she had when she was 14.
“‘Yung una ko pong naisip … paano na ‘yung sarili ko kung ganito mangyayari sa akin, magkaka-anak ako?” While her mother initially refused to talk to Raiza, she eventually advised her daughter to keep the child instead of having an abortion, for fear that her life would lead nowhere if she did. So Raiza stopped school by Grade 6, and decided to work at the development center, helping the nuns’ feeding program by peeling skins off of bean sprouts.
Raiza says her pregnancy was a result of her acting out against her mother, because the latter used to shower more attention on Raiza’s older brother and also mistreated her. Raiza then met Jhonrich’s father, a construction worker. He wasn’t a classmate in school. “Nakatambayan ko lang po [siya],” Raiza admits.
The guy stayed, who young Raiza now calls “asawa.” Their parents became supportive of the two, and her mother taught her how to bathe and change diapers, as well as how to prepare milk in the early morning, which Raiza sees as the hardest part of her day. “Tuwang-tuwa nga po sila kasi nagka-apo po sila na lalaki,” she says.
Combining their meager earnings, the couple barely have enough to support their little family, and much less to spend for any sudden illnesses. Jhonrich once caught typhus, and had to be hospitalized. Raiza and her husband had to borrow money from relatives, and he worked extra hours at the construction site to pay for the bills. They incurred so many debts that they eventually had to stop buying food.
“Di bale na pong wala kaming pagkain basta may gatas lang ‘yung anak namin,” she asserts.
Despite all this, Raiza says that her baby has been a tremendous blessing to their family, and that his energy has brought joy to her life as a young mom. “Kasi po ‘pag nakikita ko po ‘yung anak — kapag kunwari pagod na pagod ako sa gawaing bahay, kapag kinikiss-an ako ng anak ko, nawawala po agad ‘yung pagod ko.”
Judy-Ann De Quiroz, 20
The eldest among her siblings, Judy-Ann was expected to finish her college degree in BS IT and support her parents. But in her first year in college, she gave birth to her first baby. A little more than a year later, she gave birth to her second. “Sobrang hirap mamuhay talaga ng anak, sa totoo lang po,” she says. “Kung ‘yung isa iiyak, sasabay ‘yung isa. ‘Di mo alam sinong uunahin.”
The father of her children is now out of the picture. “Hiniwalayan ko na rin po kasi … magbibigay lang siya kapag naisipan lang niya. Parang wala ring kuwenta,” she says.
Until recently, Judy-Ann worked as a sales clerk in a mall to support her children, despite the salary not being enough. She shares that every month, she struggles to budget ₱3,000, and that she has resorted to downsizing her purchases — like buying sachets of milk instead of boxes or cans. She hopes to earn ₱5,000 for her kids.
But with contractualization, she was even forced to leave her job. “Sa ibang mall na naman maga-apply kaya nag-decide na lang din ako na mag-aral na lang [para] makakuha ako ng mas matinong trabaho, ‘yung talagang permanent,” she says. She is returning to first year college.
Judy-Ann says that she has been extremely lucky to have supportive parents. Whenever she has a hard time, Judy-Ann opens up to her mom, whom she says is the only person who can understand her problems. They help pay for milk and diapers, and still house her and her two kids.
Judy-Ann can’t help but break down crying as she talks about finding her new purpose in life as a single mother. “Masarap din sa pakiramdam na kahit naging batang ina ako, nakikita ko na kahit papaano, nakakaya ko na itaguyod silang dalawa. Masarap din po sa feeling [na] nakikita [ko] silang lumalaki ... sobrang saya ko kahit wala silang tatay,” she shares.
Without sex education in their school and community, Judy-Ann shares that many of her friends ended up becoming teen moms as well. She hopes that moving forward, the government provides scholarships to other young girls like her so that they can go back to school and receive proper education.
Joyce-Anne Borja, 23
Joyce-Anne was already a second year college student taking up Computer Science when she became pregnant with her son. She has since broken up with the father of her son, who wasn’t ready for the responsibility. “Pinili kong makipaghiwalay, kaysa ‘di naman okay tapos wala naman siyang trabaho. Siyempre parehas pa kaming bata pa,” she says.
Her biggest support came from her family, after they overcame their initial shock. “Siyempre diba wala namang matutuwang nanay na pinag-aaral mo anak mo tapos ganyan ‘yung nangyari,” she recalls. “Siyempre malungkot sila pero natanggap nila nung lumabas na ‘yung baby.” Thankfully, her parents did not force her to marry her boyfriend, as other parents tend to do. Instead, they told her to marry at the right age, and to first focus on raising her son.
Now, Joyce-Anne has stopped going to school to work as an accounting staff earning ₱10,000. She uses the money not only to support her son but also to contribute to the house as a way of giving back. “‘Di naman puwede iaasa mo lahat sa pamilya mo. Kaya nagtrabaho ako, para mabigay ko ‘yung pangangailangan ng anak ko, kahit mahirap,” she says. “Sobrang hirap.”
For a 23-year-old, Joyce-Anne exudes an air of control over her life, and says that she didn’t consider herself a naive young girl when she got pregnant. In the same way, she would like to challenge her peers to take more responsibility for their actions. “Sa batch ko, di masyadong pinag-uusapan ‘yung sex education … Kahit ‘di ituro, alam mo kung ano dapat. Nasa amin ‘yun eh kung susundin namin ‘yung itinuturo, kung matutukso kami,” she says.
As a word of warning, Joyce-Anne wants other young girls to know that she had to let go of her dreams inorder to become a teenage mom, and that they should think of the consequences before putting themselves in risky situations.
She hopes that the government provides other teenage moms like her a second shot at education. She also hopes to find more livelihood opportunities, since she knows her parents won’t be able to support her and her son forever.
Nevertheless, Joyce-Anne remains hopeful. “Marami pang panahon, bata pa naman ako... Marami pang mangyayari.”