The youth in Rwanda make up an estimated 67 per cent of the population. This sizeable share of the population makes them integral to the country’s social, political and economic development.
However, the country’s development is compromised by the sexual and reproductive health challenges facing the youth.
The government in collaboration with its development partners has focussed its machinery in addressing challenges facing the age group however there is still a lack of sexual health information especially amongst the component of Rwandans who do not go to school.
Rwandan youth today, despite existing free primary school education only an estimated 73.8 percent of all boys and 76.6 percent of girls make it to primary school and the number dwindles as you go on to higher education with less than one percent of these joining University.
Speaking at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) regional workshop held recently, the Minister of Health, Dr Richard Sizebera, noted that the component that never make it to school mostly fall prey to teenage pregnancies and are still ignorant on using available family planning methods.
“There is an acute lack of information on reproductive health amongst the youth in the country especially in the component that does not make it to school,” Sezibera said.
If this is left unchecked, Sizebera warns that the country’s development will be adversely affected.
Sezibera notes that his ministry is in the process of initializing Community Youth Centres across the country that will serve as a one -stop shop for all information on reproductive health and sexuality.
“In addition to reproductive and sexuality information the youth will in these centres receive entrepreneurship information,” Sezibera said.
Through the youth centres, Sizebera adds, the youth will also be equipped with information on how to deliver community based services within their communities.
The indication is existence of untamed hunger for information regarding sexuality and reproductive health.
One that led to the ongoing United Nations Population Fund workshop aimed at developing a framework for Action on Adolescents and youth. In attendance was UNFPA’s Youth and HIV Advisor, Dr Asha Mohamud.
According to Dr Mohamud, the youth are in search of information regarding their sexuality and it’s up to their government and partners to ensure that they have answers to the questions.
“We need to model systems that will ensure that our youths receive essential packages about their reproductive health, one that address the risk and extends information about behaviour change for life,” Mohamud said.
Mohamud says education is an integral part in growing youths who will be tomorrow’s leaders. However she notes there is need to coordinate all existing interventions in addressing youth issues.
“We can no longer address youth issues separately, HIV, STIs, drugs, and other reproductive issues are all related instead we need to develop an essential package to deliver to the youth that intervenes on all their felt information needs,” Mohamud noted.
The youth, according to the UNFPA advisor, are assets in each and every country and it’s only logical to focus all approaches in addressing problems facing them.
To be more effective the youth have to be mobilized to take up their own education and in addressing the problems that they now face.
“The youths participate in their own education, by training peer educators who will in turn educate their friends on issues surrounding reproductive health,”
Parents need to start talking to their children about sexuality, the risk involved and preventive measures for all sexually related diseases and educate them on how to live positively for life.
“Some parents can’t even get themselves to talk about sexuality to their children, some explain birth using animals in order to avoid the topic, and these won’t help them in any way. From an early age the children need to be equipped with reproductive health knowledge,” Mohamud noted.
She pointed out that even though there are different ways of talking about sexuality, culturally none is upheld.
“Don’t lie to your children about sexuality.
If you can talk to them then provide them with a point of reference, an uncle or an aunt who can in turn talk to them.” Mohamud said.
The advisor said she foresees an emerging group of assertive young leaders who will drive the country to the next generation if all their challenges are met.