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Philippines debates the issue of contraception

The Philippines has one of the fastest-rising populations in Asia, growing at nearly 2% every year. In 1990, there were 60 million Filipinos; by 2015, the country looks set to have over 100 million.

Though the economy has grown by an average of 4% annually over the last decade, high levels of poverty and malnutrition still persist. 23% of Filipinos live below the poverty line and a fifth of children below the age of five are underweight (according to data from the World Health Organization). Now some key political figures, including the president, believe that in order to tackle poverty effectively, the Philippines must address the issue of its ballooning population.

President Benigno Aguino is backing a new bill which aims to improve sex education and access to contraception in the Philippines. The reproductive health bill proposes that couples would be able to receive free contraception and family planning advice. In a country where a packet of condoms or contraceptive pills cost more than many spend on their weekly food, this would significantly widen access to family planning among the poorest in society.

The bill is currently being debated by the country’s politicians, but is facing a strong campaign waged against it from the Catholic Church. In a BBC article looking at the two sides of the debate, one of country’s bishops argues “it’s not the business of government to be promoting contraceptive devices.”

While most Filipinos are devout in their faith, attitudes towards contraception are changing. Many feel the Catholic Church is wrong on this particular issue. A survey at the end of last year showed that 7 out of 10 Filipinos supported the bill, believing family planning should be more widely available. Many see the struggle faced by the poor, particularly those with large families (8, 9, or 10 offspring is not uncommon). Mothers on low-incomes freely admit it’s a daily battle to feed their children.

Speaking of his own faith, Mr Aquino is reported as saying that when asked by the Almighty ‘What have you done for the least of your brethren?’, he cannot in good conscience reply “we saw the problem and we refused to see it, we refused to talk about it, we refused to hear it”. But despite the president’s backing for the bill, its progress is not assured. Many influential politicians, media figures and businessmen are openly siding with the Catholic Church and saying contraception is against God’s will. They argue the best way to tackle poverty in the Philippines is to reduce levels of corruption. The debate therefore looks set to continue.

SOS Children's Villages Philippines

We began our work in the Philippines in 1964 and currently care for more than 700 children at our eight purpose-built SOS Children's Villages. We also support a further 262 youths at our seven SOS Youth Homes, a place for young adults to prepare for independence.

We also runs schools, vocational training centres and Family Strengthening Programmes in the Philippines. Family Strengthening Programmes aim to stop child abandonment and to keep families together, by providing child care, counselling, vocational training and medical support. In total, through all of our programmes (including the Villages and the Family Strengthening Programmes) we are reaching more than 6,700 Filipinos.