Philippine Daily Inquirer
Making PH less hostile to children
Is the Philippines a hostile place for children growing up? The latest numbers indicate this is the case. A new report by the international nongovernment organization Save the Children stated the Philippines has fallen out of the 100 best places to raise a child.
The report, titled “The Many Faces of Exclusion,” rated 175 countries based on a range of factors, including teenage pregnancy, child mortality and nutrition. The Philippines fell eight places, from 96th to 104th, and performed worse than most of the countries in the region, including China ( 40th), Thailand ( 85th) and Vietnam ( 96th).
Only Indonesia did worse, at 105th. Another neighbor, Singapore, was ranked first along with Sweden.
The most disturbing finding is that one out of every three Filipino children, or 30.3 percent, suffers from stunting. The Philippines ranked ninth in the top 10 countries with the highest record of child stunting. Meanwhile, deaths before reaching 5 years of age is at 28 percent, while teenage pregnancy is as high as 62.7 percent.
The numbers on teen pregnancy are supported by the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), which showed one out of every 10 Filipino women aged 15-19 experiencing pregnancy. By age 19, a whopping 22 percent of Filipino women have begun childbearing.
This is problematic because teenage mothers encounter more health and educational challenges, and children born to young mothers face steeper odds of survival. Data also show that teenage mothers from the rural areas begin bearing children earlier than those from the urban areas.
Yet the fertility rate for Filipino women has actually regressed, from 4.1 children per woman in 1993 to the current rating of 2.7 per woman.
Child mortality data seem to be grim as well. In the NDHS survey, infant mortality was 21 deaths for every 1,000 live births, while the child mortality rate was 7 deaths per 1,000 children surviving up to one year. For all Filipino children under 5, it was 27 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
But there is also hope in these numbers, as the mortality rate has improved significantly from the 1993 under-5 mortality rate of 54 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
One can see a portrait of the danger of stunting in Jonathan Oya, as reported in this paper early this year. Oya suffered from severe malnutrition and endured an arduous three-hour walk from his home to Glab Elementary School in Zamboanga del Sur, because it was his only way to get a meal for the entire day. Right before he died in February, he weighed just 15 kilograms, the ideal weight for a 4-year-old Filipino boy. Oya was 12.
Malnutrition is inextricably tied to poverty. A report from the World Bank stated that economic growth allowed the Philippines to cut its poverty rate by 5 percentage points—from 26.6 in 2006 to 21.6 percent in 2015, due to steps such as cash transfers and remittances. But the rate may not be falling fast enough, as 2015 World Bank data also showed that 22 million Filipinos still lived in poverty.
The Philippine government has set a 2022 goal of cutting poverty down to 13 or 15 percent. But that goal cannot be met fast enough for suffering Filipino children, whose precarious condition requires more immediate action.
A bill in Congress, nicknamed the “1,000 Days’ Bill,” aims to do that by mandating proper care for Filipino children in their first 1,000 days, which can have a very positive effect on their long-term growth.
The bill needs to be passed without delay, “to help ensure that all children and pregnant women, especially the poorest, have access to proper healthcare and nutrition,” said Save the Children Philippines CEO Alberto Muyot. “Having a safe, healthy and happy childhood is every child’s right, regardless of where they are in the world.”
For Filipino children especially, those needs are urgent and acute.