Castilla, Sorsogon – Shirley J. had her first born when she was 17, barely a year after she eloped and started living with her childhood boyfriend. Now at 25, but looking 10 years older, she is a busy mother of six skinny and pallid children that came almost yearly after each other.
Five months pregnant, Shirley’s everyday chores would be more on single-handedly tending to the kids as her fisherman husband, Ramil, 26, prefers staying with the village’s “tambays” after his daily sea outings. But Shirley expressed no regret for already having such a big number of children at her young age.
“God’s will. Who am I to resist or protest,” was her explanation uttered in the local dialect between awful coughs and manifestation of difficulty in breathing.
Shirley, however, admitted that she had very limited knowledge about family planning. “I just heard about it from my peers and I never attempted to find out more about it for myself because I do not have time to do so. I am very much occupied by house chores and by attending to my children,” she said.
In the coastal barrio of Bagong Sirang here where this young housewife lives, village chieftain Rene Espinola said that his over 2,000 constituents are about 40 percent young children whose mothers are between 17 and 45 years old. The younger ages, 30 years old and below, dominate the number. Mothers with ages ranging between 17 and 27 years old had an average of four children.
Shirley is among the around 150 mothers at the youngest age bracket in the village having four children or more that are mostly products of early pregnancy and closely spaced births, according to Espinola.
“I have not heard of any ordinary mother like Shirley or couple in this barangay practicing family planning (FP). Most of them are somewhat ignorant about FP methods be it natural or artificial as they seldom meet health workers or family counselors from the Rural Health Unit (RHU) based at the health center in the poblacion that is an hour away by boat,” he added.
Anyway, Espinola said his barangay is not the only one in the entire municipality experiencing such scenario as all the rest among those in the coastal and upland areas are similarly situated.
Across Bicol, the Commission on Population (POPCOM) regional office here reported that early pregnancy and lack of knowledge in FP are main reasons behind the over 5.1 million population of the region listed by the National Statistics Office’s (NSO) census conducted in August 2007.
POPCOM information officer Miracle Bolaños said early pregnancy comes with the early marriage of women particularly in the rural areas of the region where FP methods and practices are unpopular, a situation that also results to unplanned birth spacing.
On the health aspects, Bolaños said studies have it that improper birth spacing poses threat to the health, nutrition and lives of both the mother and her baby.
Babies delivered between too close intervals or less than three years apart are often times low in birth weight or sometimes born prematurely and physically defective. They are also at risk of malnourishment, exposed to infections and communicable diseases and even higher incidence of child deaths, she said.
Mothers who do not practice proper birth spacing, meanwhile, are physically stressed as their functions are overlapping from breastfeeding the newly-born, taking care of the other young children, attending to house chores, not to mention having to go to work in the case of careered women, Bolaños said.
Death during delivery also threatens young mothers who do not practice FP to provide for proper birth spacing as their reproductive system is yet to recover from the previous pregnancy.
Sad to say, Bolaños said the absence or lack of FP knowledge and acceptance develops amidst the absence of a law on FP and the lack of government investment into programs and projects geared towards the promotion of this family welfare initiative.
Bolaños said that based on statistics, Bicol is No. 2, next to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in having cases of unwanted pregnancy and not using family planning methods. “Our region, on the other hand, is currently number one in the total number of pregnant women,” she noted.
With these, she added that Bicol, the country’s second poorest region and one of the smallest in terms of territory according to the latest NSO count, contributed a total of 5,106,160 or about six percent to the Philippines total population of 88,566,732. “Our regional population growth stands at 1.22 percent.”
Of the 17 regions of the country, Bolaños said Bicol is the sixth most populous after the National Capital Region (NCR) with a population of 11,566,325; CALABARZON, 11,757,755; Central Luzon, 9,709,177; Western Visayas, 6,843,643 and; Central Visayas, 6,400,698.
As reported by Danny O. Calleja, Philippine News Agency.