As devastated areas try to bounce back after the onslaught of Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses, several organizations from all over the country have been working on relief operations to help out. While the general public continues to demand accountability and assistance from the national government and local government units, there’s another issue that these agencies shouldn’t overlook—a surge in sexual violence and teenage pregnancies.
On Nov. 26, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian called on government units to ensure the protection of young girls in evacuation centers in areas struck by Typhoon Ulysses.
“Ang epekto ng pandemya ay isa nang posibleng sanhi ng pagdami ng mga batang ina sa bansa. At dahil sa mga nagdaang bagyo, ang mga batang babae sa mga nasalantang lugar ay mas nanganganib na mabiktima ng karahasan, pang-aabuso, at maging mga batang ina,” he said in a statement.
He cited a 2017 study by the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP) which revealed that 23.5% of the population of teenage girls in Eastern Visayas got pregnant after the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda. The same study revealed similar statistics when Typhoon Ruby hit the region in 2014.
According to Dr. Gloria Luz M. Nelson, a social researcher from the DOST-NRCP, 10 to 19-year-old girls are the most vulnerable evacuees in disaster relocation centers due to poor conditions and minimal provisions for security and privacy.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) explained that the stress of emergency situations tend to increase the factors for the perpetration of sexual violence. One reason includes the instances of crowded evacuation centers housing sex offenders in close proximity with other evacuees. They also noted that security personnel may be busy dealing with the damage of the disaster and services and so wouldn’t be available to provide the protection that vulnerable groups need.
Sen. Gatchalian emphasized the need to bring awareness to this issue and to implement child protection and reproductive health programs. He also called for the resumption of educational services and a comprehensive program on sex education to protect these women and children.
Sexual violence and unwanted pregnancy is an alarming issue in the Philippines, especially during the pandemic. Sen. Risa Hontiveros warned the public about an increase of domestic violence cases due to similar reasons stated by the NSVRC and a study in March by the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) showed that cases of unwanted pregnancies are predicted to increase due to the inaccessibility of family planning services. Government agencies need to act on this now and provide services that protect those vulnerable and prioritize sexual and reproductive health whether we’re in a state of calamity or not.