From setting up teen hubs and centers in every public school and village to the creation of a council that will drive all programs for adolescents, Naga City is taking bolder yet wiser steps to curb teenage births through a newly passed ordinance.
Known as the “AYSRH Ordinance,” the measure was enacted last month, a critical move that would finally institutionalize and bring harmony to the city’s wide-ranging adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health programs and services.
“The ordinance is like an arm or an instrument for us to be able to achieve our purpose, which is for adolescent girls to avoid being pregnant and for them to better prepare themselves for the years ahead because this lay down the acts that we have to do,” said Naga City Mayor Nelson Legacion.
Naga City’s adolescent birth rate has continuously dropped for the last four years, from a high of 30.21 in 2019 to 20.10 in 2022. But it has observed an uptick in repeat pregnancy in teenage mothers from a low 39 in 2020 to 56 in 2021 and 62 last year.
The mayor is pushing for zero teenage pregnancy in three years as it works under the guidance of The Challenge Initiative (TCI), a program co-managed by the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF) with the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.
Launched in 2020, the program aims to stem teenage pregnancies in the country by improving access to family planning programs and promoting positive health-seeking behavior among youth and adolescents.
Road to ‘zero’
Legacion expressed confidence that the “ambitious target” was doable with an ordinance that will strengthen the city leadership team and its information service delivery network (ISDN), composed of various stakeholders that will journey with the city government to achieve such dream, and with the continued support of TCI and ZFF.
Among the many things the ordinance would set in motion are the creation of the City Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health (AYSRH) Council, which will act as the advisory, planning, and policy-making body for the full implementation of the law, and the provision of a comprehensive culture-sensitive, age- and development-appropriate sex education in schools and the communities.
The law also obliges the city government to provide sufficient funding annually for all its AYSRH programs and services and to strengthen the capability of barangay health workers, nutrition scholars, and other frontline health and social workers in providing care and education tailored to the needs of adolescents and the youth.
Since joining the TCI, the city gradually increased its investments in ASYRH services from Php728,000 in 2020 to over P1 million in 2022, the start of the program implementation. It quadrupled to P4.1 million in 2023.
Adolescent-friendly spaces in all schools and villages
The ordinance also mandates the establishment of teen hubs in all public schools and teen centers in the barangays that will give adolescents and out-of-school youths an exclusive schedule to avail of reproductive health services with confidence and privacy.
So far, teen centers or adolescent-friendly facilities have been created in Barangays Concepcion Pequeña, Balatas, and Calauag.
“Part of the services we ask from teen centers and teen hubs is to address the stigmatization because it is one of the reasons why there is poor health-seeking behavior among our teenagers,” said Councilor Gayle Abonal-Gomez, author of the ordinance.
She also said the city was looking forward to getting private schools on board to set up their own teen hubs and mining data from its body of research on ASYRH to further improve the local government’s programs.
Underscoring the importance of the role of parents in teenage pregnancy prevention, the ordinance shall also see the implementation of a family support program that will provide parents of adolescents with the necessary education and support that encourage parental involvement.
“We are closely monitoring the rise in repeat pregnancies among teenage mothers…and based on observations and with our dealings with the barangays, the role of the family and parents plays a big part in this,” she said.
Widening of networks and programs
Another major component of the ordinance is the formal establishment of ISDN that will “harmonize all existing services and program interventions” on ASYRH in the city.
Under the newly enacted law, the City Population and Nutrition Office will spearhead gathering and linking up various stakeholders involved in the provision of ASRYH services to form a referral system and provide health services tailor-fit to the specific needs of adolescents.
“Before this ordinance, we already have many public and private partners and linkages, there are many programs and services [on ASYRH] available in the city. But the concern was that efforts were not institutionalized and harmonized,” said Abonal-Gomez.
“One advantage of this ordinance is that it will unify all our actions and with everyone officially on board, we will be able to grow our networks and the programs itself,” she added.