‘Post’ links RP poverty to high birth rates
|Posted by Manila Mail under Articles/Stories|
In an article in the April 21 issue of the Post, correspondent Blaine Harden said that while there are many reasons why the Philippines is poor, “including feudal patterns of land ownership and corrupt government… there is a compelling link between family size and poverty.” The article was titled “Help Keep Filipinos in poverty: Contraceptives, Rejected by Government, are Unaffordable for Many in Majority-Catholic Nation.”
The article was illustrated with the picture of a mother, Maria Susana Espinosa, with her naked children in a squatter’s area in Manila. This picture elicited criticisms from Filipino Americans in the area (see Letters to the Editor).
Harden said “birth and poverty rates here are among the highest in Asia. And the Philippines, where four out of five of the country’s 91 million people are Roman Catholic, also stands out in Asia for its government’s rejection of modern contraception as part of family planning.
“Acceding to Catholic doctrine, the government for the past five years has supported only what it calls ‘natural’ family planning. No national government funds can be used to buy contraceptives for the poor, although anyone who can afford them is permitted to buy them. Local governments can also buy and distribute contraceptives, but many lack the money.”
Harden said the Espinozas, who resides in “her squatter’s hut in a vast, stinking garbage dump by Manila Bay,” belong to the fastest-growing segment of the Philippine population who are very poor people with large families.
Harden continued: “There are many reasons why this country is poor, including feudal patterns of land ownership and corrupt government. But there is a compelling link between family size and poverty. It increases in lock step with the number of children, as nutrition, health, education and job prospects all decline, government statistics and many studies show.
“Birth and poverty rates here are among the highest in Asia. And the Philippines, where four out of five of the country’s 91 million people are Roman Catholic, also stands out in Asia for its government’s rejection of modern contraception as part of family planning.
“Acceding to Catholic doctrine, the government for the past five years has supported only what it calls ‘natural’ family planning. No national government funds can be used to buy contraceptives for the poor, although anyone who can afford them is permitted to buy them. Local governments can also buy and distribute contraceptives, but many lack
“Distribution of donated contraceptives in the government’s nationwide network of clinics ends this year, as does a contraception-commodities program paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development. For years it has supplied most of the condoms, pills and intrauterine devices used by poor Filipinos.
“Family planning helps reduce poverty,” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a 2003 speech that detailed her approach to birth control. But she said then and has since insisted that the government would support only family planning methods acceptable to the Catholic Church.
“Women not wanting to get pregnant,” Arroyo advised, “should buy a thermometer and recording charts and abstain from sex when they are outside the ‘infertile phases of the monthly cycle’.”
Arroyo, 61 and a grandmother with three grown children, said in 2003 that when she was a young mother, she took birth control pills. She said that she later confessed to a priest.
“At the Manila garbage dump, Espinoza said she has been lucky. “A nongovernmental organization with health workers who regularly visit the dump told her that an intrauterine device could prevent her from having another baby. She plans to visit a clinic this month to get an IUD.
“The organization that is helping Espinoza agreed to introduce this reporter to her on condition that it not be named. The group’s health workers said they fear retaliation and harassment from officials in the national and city government, as well as from the Catholic Church.”
“Public opinion surveys in recent years have consistently found that about 90 percent of respondents supported government funding of contraceptives for people who cannot afford them. “Surveys by the government also show that poor families have significantly more unwanted pregnancies than richer families — and much more difficulty finding affordable contraceptives.
“The problems the poor face in finding contraception products will increase sharply this year as the Philippine government and USAID end the distribution of donated contraceptives, according to Suneeta Mukherjee, country representative for the U.N.
“A reduction in the use of contraception — which is now about 33 percent among women of childbearing age — will lead to an increase in abortions, Mukherjee predicts.
Abortion is illegal here, but a 2006 study found that there were about 473,000 a year, which accounts for about a third of women with unwanted pregnancies. The study also found that 80 percent of abortions had complications requiring medical treatment.
As for the efficacy of “natural” methods to control population growth, Mukherjee said “it does not work.”