Monday, March 25, 2013

#RHLaw Young people's challenges & hopes on RPRH Law

THE R. A. 10354 also known as the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 was recently signed last December 2012. Following a 60-day timeline, the DOH Secretary appointed members to form the Drafting Committee of the RPRH Law's Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). The Drafting Committee is composed of different national government agencies, leagues of cities, municipalities and provinces and from the civil society groups. The Drafting Committee is supported by the DOH's Technical & Advocacy Working Group (TAWG).

As member of the Drafting Committee representing the youth, one of the main issues we have to hurdle is the specific section in the law that limits minors to access FP services. Section 7 of the law states that "no person shall be denied information and access to family planning services to family planning services whether natural or artificial" but goes on stating that minors will not be allowed access to modern methods of family planning but sets the following exemptions:

1. Written consent from their parents or guardian/s
2. The minor is already a parent
3. The minor has had a miscarriage
4. The person is not in an emergency condition or serious case as defined in R. A. 8344

Many young people saw this as very limiting and verbalized their opposition to this provision during the IRR Manila Public Consultation. Some young people says that this shouldn't be in the IRR but the Committee cannot take it out since it is directly quoting the law. And we were told that the IRR Committee can only can clarify for better implementation of the law, but not to expand its coverage nor take away specific provisions found in it. Inasmuch as we wanted to delete this provision, we cannot do anything with it but to find alternatives and workarounds. 

One must also know that although the RPRH Law limits the access of minors to FP services it does not limit them in accessing FP & RH information and counselling services. The RPRH Law requires the State to train an adequate number of skilled trainers, educators & counselors to provide these services in hospital facilities, academic institutions and community-based facilities.

But why these provisions even there? These are the products of long debates and compromises in the House and Senate in the process of approving this long overdue law. So if young people's groups start to ask why is this even there, the answer would be: the IRR cannot take out anything the RPRH Law was very explicit about. 

This certain part of the IRR took the Committee a long time to discuss, debate and come with a better solution in increasing young people's access to RH services. 

We believe that access to RH services is as important as access to RH education & counseling services. These two should go together and should be co-equal. Accessing information without services is just like eating with one piece of chop sticks. 

During our discussions we approved that a minor may have at least one of his/her parents sign the consent and we in our discussion we liberally interpreted the law when it says about guardians giving consent. Guardians in this context would mean someone who is above the age of minority and may or may not be legally-appointed. This may also mean that a young person's older sibling, grandparents or a relative may stand as a guardian. For street children or those who are orphaned, they may have a social worker or the representative of the orphanage or similar institutions duly accredited by the proper government agency to be their guardian.

In the case of an abused minor no consent shall be required if the parent or the person exercising parental authority is the respondent, accused or convicted or is the perpetrator. Should the minor satisfies any of the above conditions but is still being refused to be given RH information and/or services, he/she may direct complaints to the designated RH Officer of the facility. These complaints should and must be acted upon immediately.

Despite this challenge in the RPRH Law, young advocates are hopeful and expectant that RH services will be more accessible to young people. The RPRH Law may have limited the minors in accessing FP/RH services and provide a minimum requirement before accessing it, the RPRH Law enforces comprehensive sexuality education integrated in the curriculum including values formation. Providing an open access to complete information and counselling services puts a preventive aspect in the line to the general youth populace while providing essential FP services to those young people who are already parent or have had miscarriages may prevent them from having untimely and unplanned pregnancy again. 

Another important aspect in the IRR is the increased availability and accessible to young people who are differently-abled, with special needs and/or displaced. Young people who have also been survivors of gender-based violence shall be given care and support.

Alternate Access
One of the workarounds is the Service Delivery Network (SDN) - a network of accredited public and private facilities and professionals within a certain locality where a system of referral will be developed for patients to access better services provided by another provider. The DOH after the creation of the IRR shall be creating the Operation Guidelines for all of the specifications in carrying the provisions of the law and its implementing regulations. 

The IRR limits access of minors to FP services only in public facilities which includes DOH-retained hospitals and rural health units but gives leeway for the private sector including the civil society organizations to provide such services. Young people may access non-government organizations who provide services - some of them have been providing information, counselling and services for the longest time even before the RPRH Law.

This is, as of the moment, the workarounds we have. Disappointingly we have these kind of provisions which limits young people. It is quite ironic that the law said that no person shall be denied access to RPRH information & services yet exempts young people and sets guidelines for them to 'access to FP services'. 

Frustration over SC order
Despite young people's dilemma on the limitation on accessing FP services of the RPRH Law, many young people still would want to have the RPRH Law and its implementing regulations be implemented. Young people got frustrated upon hearing the news that the Supreme Court halted the implementation of the RPRH Law for another 4 months then to hear all arguments that seek to junk this landmark law.

Pro-RH youth groups are gravely disappointed by the ruling of the Supreme Court and will seek to ask for its reversal. Youth groups are expected to mobilize and raise concerns to the public.

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