Access to contraception is a universal human right that could dramatically improve the lives of women and children in poor countries, said the UNFPA, the United Nation’s sexual and reproductive health agency, back in 2012
. However, contraception interruptions in the first year of the pandemic alone led to some 1.4 million women and girls becoming pregnant unintentionally, according to a Bloomberg
In the Philippines, for example, teen girls
cannot get free birth control from a government clinic without parental consent even as teen pregnancies surge. Every day, some 500 teenage girls give birth in the country, reports the South China Morning Post
. Before the pandemic, the Philippines had one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy — 56 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 — in the Southeast Asia region, according to World Bank 2020 data.
In 2019, Sen. Risa Hontiveros authored a teen pregnancy prevention bill
that will ease teen access to birth control. The bill is still pending in Congress.
In contrast, Thai women aged 15-19 can access free birth control pills through an app. Anyone unable to access the app can show their ID cards at medical centers or clinics registered with the program, reports the Bangkok Post
. The National Health Security Office (NHSO) offers the free pills as part of efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies, reports the Pattaya Mail
The NHSO aims to provide free contraceptives to every Thai aged over 15. In January, it announced that free birth control pills and condoms would be made available at 2,275 health units
across the kingdom.
Thailand’s rate of teenage pregnancy — 28 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in 2020
— is half that of the Philippines. But the number jumped 47 percent in 2021 year-on-year, reports the Bangkok Post
Globally, an estimated 15 percent of young women give birth before age 18, says UNICEF
. Early childbearing can have disastrous consequences for adolescent girls and their children.
“When an adolescent girl becomes pregnant, her life changes forever. Her schooling often gets disrupted, or ends altogether; her prospects of a job dim; the health hazards due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth are huge — and often fatal,” said Wivina Belmonte
, former deputy regional director of UNICEF Regional Office for East Asia and the Pacific, and currently the principal advisor for partnerships at UNICEF.