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Friday, October 30, 2009

UN committee to RP: Pass reproductive health bill

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez First Posted 11:40:00 10/30/2009

MANILA, Philippines – Voicing “serious” concern over inadequate reproductive health services and information, low rate of contraceptive use and difficulties in access to artificial methods that contribute to teen pregnancies and high maternal death, a United Nations panel urged the government to pass the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

A report released this October containing the concluding observations on the Philippines of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the government should “adopt as a matter or urgency the Reproductive Health bill awaiting approval by Congress and ensure that the bill reflect the rights of children and adolescents as enshrined in the Convention [Convention on the Rights of the Child].”

The recommendations came from the combined 3rd and 4th reports of the Philippines to the UN submitted early this year on its compliance to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, where the country is a signatory. A parallel report was submitted by the NGO Coalition made up of 15 organizations dealing with children’s concerns.

“The Committee remains seriously concerned at the inadequate reproductive health services and information, the low rates of contraceptive use [36 percent of women relied on modern family planning methods in 2006] and the difficulties in obtaining access to artificial methods of contraception, which contribute to the high rates of teenage pregnancies and maternal deaths,” the report said.

While it welcomes the passage of the Magna Carta of Women, the international body said that it remained concerned “over the lack of effective measures to promote the reproductive rights of women and girls and that particular beliefs and religious values are preventing their fulfillment.”

The RH bill remained pending for years in the House of Representatives partly due to the resistance of several Church groups. Two panels composed of congressmen were created in the chamber to debate on the bill in plenary when session resumes on November 9.

The bill pushes for, among others, the use of both artificial and natural means of family planning as a way to curb the ballooning population and to safeguard the health of mothers and children.

According to the UN report, the government has a lot to do to ensure access to reproductive health counseling and provide all adolescents with accurate and objective information and culturally sensitive services in order to prevent teenage pregnancies, including providing access to variety of contraceptives and improving knowledge and conscience on family planning.

It urged the government to strengthen formal and informal sex education for girls and boys with focus on the prevention of early pregnancies. It also called for the strengthening of HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.

The committee said it remained concerned at the high infant and maternal mortality rates in the country even as it took note that the incidence has declined since 1990 (from 43 in 1990 to 23 per 1,000 live births in 2007-infant mortality rate and from 172 in 1997 to 162 per 100,000 live births in 2005-maternal mortality rates).

The UN said the government should “continue to take all necessary measures to lower infant, under-five and maternal mortality rates.”

Doctor Yvonette Serrano Duque, health specialist of the Children in Ministry of World Vision, one of the 15 members of the NGO Coalition, said the UN committee report should prod the government to act on the recommendations.

Serrano Duque said her group supported the RH bill and has programs advocating support for mothers from the pregnancy stage until the baby would be delivered.

They always say that the children are the hope of the fatherland. This should be reason enough to give them attention, focus on providing them good nutrition to develop their full potential,” she said in a phone interview.