Submitted on May 19, 2021 to the Committee on Youth and Sports Development, Philippine House of Representatives
In curbing adolescent pregnancies, there is a great need for a program that allows young people to develop an integrated understanding of themselves and their inherent worth, that mirrors their capacities to make right, informed decisions for themselves and for others.
Human dignity is an inherent and inviolable value that a person has from the moment of conception. This value is universally acknowledged, independent of any external circumstance, and is the basis for human rights. Moreover, this points to our inner capacities to make use of our freedom excellently, thus forming solidarity with others. Unfortunately, due to varying reasons, many young people do not develop this integrated understanding of themselves, which further leads them to engage in risky behaviour.
Research indicates that a clear, personal identity[i] is needed to support flourishing and healthy behavioural choices. As an enhancement of the initiatives being set forth by the Department of Education, the Human Dignity Curriculum – its K-12 modules, and overall holistic learning pedagogy and approach – can help young people strengthen their personal identity, rooted in human dignity. This enables them to work towards long-term goals, allows them to practice sexual risk avoidance, and learn about intentional family formation at the right time. This recognition of dignity allows for transformational and fundamental change in the lives of young people that will ultimately help us curb adolescent pregnancies in the Philippines.
Recent government reports have indicated a steady rise in adolescent pregnancies in the Philippines.[ii] These figures show that in 2019, there was a 7% increase in births among girls aged 15 and below, up from the figure on teenage pregnancies in 2018. The country has shown commitment in addressing this issue through different efforts including reviewing potential national legislation. As these indicate, young people are key to the country’s development.
The commitment to help our young people flourish is also enshrined in the international treaties where the Philippines is a State Party including (but not limited to) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which affirms the liberty of parents to “ensure the religious and moral education of children in conformity with their own convictions”, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which requires State Parties to “take appropriate measures . . . to develop preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education.” The latter requires States to take “appropriate measures” and only implement the family planning education that is appropriate in the context of their national policies, local cultures, values, and traditions. The CRC also says that States must respect the rights and duties of parents to provide appropriate direction and guidance in the child’s exercise of his or her rights.
As we build these local strategies to improve the situation of our children, we have seen time and again how there is a need for a far deeper type of formation for them that aims to strengthen their sense of self and identity. In building these strategies, there has been a tendency to simply adhere to band-aid solutions that impede any real flourishing, ultimately proving weak in addressing problems in the long run.
Research indicates that a clear, personal identity is needed to support flourishing and healthy behavioural choices. It shows that in order for us to address issues that deal with young people, we have to be able to equip them to answer fundamental questions such as – ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why do I matter?’, which will be the gateway for them to make responsible choices in life. As human beings born with inherent dignity, young people are innately predisposed to make choices that are rooted in the foundation of who they are. Most Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programs fail because they do not teach this holistic understanding of self to which young people can then integrate their sexuality into. CSE programs tend to reduce and view children as young as preschool age as primarily sexual beings who should be exploring their gender identity and sexual identity, and even advocate for the elimination of the role of parents in educating children in this area, which is in direct contrast to research-based best practices and the country’s commitment to international law that enshrines parents as the primary arbiters of their child’s education and flourishing.
We must implement a program that focuses on a young person’s self-worth and equips them to make the right choices. In accordance with international law, this should be age-appropriate, culturally sensitive and respects the value and worth of a person not solely as an economic and sexual object.
We, at World Youth Alliance, have been engaging with young people for years in answering questions to who am I? and why do I have skills to contribute?. It has been through these engagements that we came up with the Human Dignity Curriculum (HDC) and its K-12 modules, an overall holistic learning pedagogy and approach that helps children as young as pre-schoolers to strengthen their personal identity, rooted in human dignity.
The HDC asks them big picture questions and helps them understand their human dignity. This teaches them respect for others and for themselves, and orients them towards exercising their freedom for excellence. It cultivates an environment that teaches them about the importance of making healthy and respectful choices, thereby reducing risks of adolescent pregnancy.
Further to this is the HDC’s ability to transcend the four corners of the classroom. We have seen this program penetrate many communities and homes. In our experiences implementing HDC across six different regions of the world, those of whom we have taught under this curriculum would, most often than not, bring their learnings from the program to their younger peers out of their own volition. The HDC is culturally sensitive, age-appropriate, and respects parental rights. It is a recognition of dignity that allows for transformational and fundamental change in the lives of young people who are ultimately the solutions themselves in curbing adolescent pregnancies.
Here in the Philippines, the HDC has impacted the lives of over 400 students in over 8 municipalities. As one Filipino student exclaimed, “I learned that we all have dignity, and that no one can take this worth away from us”. Further, since the very first implementation in Highway Hills in Mandaluyong City in 2016, the HDC has trained numerous teachers and volunteers to acknowledge their worth, which shows how, along with the modules, there’s already an existing program adoption process in place that easily allows partner institutions to conduct an assessment of the HDC, and to engage relevant groups and contacts to meet the target outcomes for the students.
The HDC also serves as a great foundation for our other WYA programs, TeenFEMM and TeenMEN, health education components for female and male students, respectively, offered to Grade 6 (age 10) and above. It covers education on observable signs of health and fertility such as reproductive anatomy, physiology, biomarkers, and provides a safe forum to learn about sexual health as well as healthy lifestyle choices and habits.
There is a great need for a program that allows young people to develop an integrated understanding of themselves and their inherent dignity, which mirrors their capacities to make right, informed decisions for themselves and for others. This dignity is a value that we, at World Youth Alliance, will continue to vigorously defend and call on others to do the same.
[i] Richard F. Catalano et al., Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs, 591 Annals Am. Acad. Political & Soc. Sci. 98, 106 (2004).
[ii] Posted on February 8, 2021. “The Philippines has recorded a 7% increase in births among girls aged 15 and below in 2019, up from the figure on teenage pregnancies in 2018, the Commission on Population and Development said over the weekend” https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2021/2/8/Teenage-pregnancy-cases-up-in-Philippines.html