Sexual behavior is one of the most common health concerns experienced by young people in the Philippines. With a continuing increase of teenage pregnancy, where one out of ten from age 15-19 have begun child bearing, the impact of this affects not only the teenage mother but also society in general. With the increase of HIV among young people as well, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) provides holistic, developmentally appropriate and scientifically accurate information about human development and the diversity of sexuality.
The parallel session moderated by Dr. Stella Manalo explained that the session intends to address these issues by elaborating how CSE creates safe spaces for young people. This includes school systems for implementation of school-based initiatives, identification of community-based programs, and strategies for educating the youth with developmental disabilities, as well as geographical or opportunity barriers.
Dr. Junice Melgar from Likhaan Center for Women’s Health tackled the concepts, strategies and necessary evidence for CSE. “Sexual initiation can be a natural and healthy aspect of adolescence, and adolescents should have the right to be provided with the tools and information to navigate sexuality safely,” she read, quoting the UN Right to Health Special Rapporteur.
Dr. Melgar expounded that young people are left to feel shame. “They get this notion na masama to play with our bodies.” While CSE is intended to be a curriculum-based framework about cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality, it “is not just cognitive but also life skills,” she explained further, addressing that Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) problems, particularly unsafe sexual practices, are because of behavior and the marginalization of young people.
“CSE does not promote early sexual activity but creation of a supportive environment required of the state,” according to Dr. Melgar.
A Department of Education speaker, Rosalie Masilang, focused on updating the audience where the department is in the implementation of the CSE program. Anchored to Republic Act 10354, The Reproductive Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law of 2012 and Executive Order Number 12, series 2017, their department’s goal is to be clear, consistent, and provide evidence-based guidance in the roll-out.
As early as kindergarten, youth are already given key concepts and attitudes, including counseling provision for children experiencing identity crisis. Through age-appropriate education, “tinuturuan ang mga bata na dapat magsasabi sila kapag nava-violate ang kanilang karapatan. Isa itong example ng topics at usapin ng CSE,” shared Ms. Masilang.
In line with creative safe spaces, “there should always be safe spaces for teens to talk about CSE,” opened Dr. Ella Naliponguit, also from the Department of Education. She focused on counseling work and encouraging that young people should be able to take the discussion back to their homes to be able to talk about it. She said that the end goal is to create after school activities for RH through counseling and psycho-social services, facilities to address risky behaviors, and include prevention, diagnosis, and proper management of STI.
The final speaker was Dr. Maria Isabel Quilendrino from UP-Philippine General Hospital. She explored the discussion of young people and developmental disabilities. She started off by saying that “in CSE, people with disabilities are always excluded as if they don’t have the same feelings and the same needs.”
Dr. Quilendrino went on to explain: “Societal attitudes have changed less for sexuality and disability. Many individuals with developmental disability (IDD) have little or no formal sexual education.” The way to help, she said, is to ensure that opportunities are available for them to learn and to practice CSE skills. She also pointed out that barriers to learning such as conservatism and the dissonance to their needs should also be addressed.
The young people then gave their response to the session. They thought that it is important that children should be allowed to be part of the process—not just as recipients but also to be consulted in the development of the manuals and tools to be used for implementation. One reactor also said that there’s a need to address the malice that hounds sex education, especially with the adults. The issues are handled as they arrive but there’s a glaring lack of effort towards prevention, they said.
During the open forum, an audience member asked why there wasn’t an effort in distributing commodities like condoms. Dr. Naliponguit said that while they agree that it is important, the law clearly states that this strategy is not allowed. She urged the audience to engage in lobbying for policy and informing their representatives of this desire.
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