Pregnancy among teenage girls in Rwanda is a critical issue that nobody should turn a blind eye to, officials have warned.
The demographic and health survey 2014/2015 indicates that teenage pregnancy rate in the country shot up to 7.3 per cent in 2015 from 6.1 per cent in 2010.
This, according to officials, makes it urgent for everyone to play their role in reversing the trend to save the adolescent girls from possible effects, including dropping out of school.
The remarks were made by different officials on Sunday, during celebrations to mark the World Population Day. It was marked under the theme, “Investing in Teenage Girls” in Gatsibo District.
Addressing the gathering, Daniel Alemu, the deputy representative of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), commended Government’s sustained investment in the youth but said that more effort must be put in to curtail teenage pregnancies.
“A lot more effort is needed to fully empower young girls to make informed choices that will determine their future…poor rural girls with limited or no access to sexual reproductive health services are at higher risk of becoming pregnant or falling victims to sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.
According to the demographic and health survey 2014/2015, Gatsibo District recorded an alarming 15. 5 per cent of teenage pregnancies, the highest in the country, which is why it was chosen to host the celebrations.
Gatsibo mayor, Richard Gasana, said the district had put in place different measures to address the issue, including reinforcing sexual education for youth in and out of school, mentoring parents through akagoroba k’ababyeyi, fighting drugs, among others.
Claver Gatete, the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, who presided over the event, said the day was an opportunity to remind teenagers, families, communities and the nation at large that teenage pregnancies deprive young girls the opportunity to live a good life.
“Teenage pregnancies often result in disease, death and dropping out of school,’’ he said.
He said fighting it requires the goodwill of the government, non state actors, and the population at large.
“Let everyone commit to helping teenagers make right decisions and help them in case their rights are violated so as to develop our country and the future of everyone,” he said.
In 2012, the population of Rwanda was 10.5 million up from 8 million in 2002.
It is projected that the population will further grow to 21 million in 2041 if nothing is done to check the growth rate.
The country’s population density also rose from 321 square km in 2002 to 416 per square km in 2012.
According to Gatete, this has a negative impact on national resources and people.
Lamin Manneh, the One UN Resident Coordinator, said the focus on teenage girls is due to the fact that they face greater challenges than their male counterparts.
He referred to global statistics showing that, in developing countries, 20,000 girls of between 15 and 19 give birth every day, a third of girls are married before they could turn 18, while one third give birth before 20.
Most of them are poor, less educated and living in rural areas.
“Countries must invest in the health and education of young people, especially teenage girls and create opportunities for them to realise their potential.
“Without education, with poor health, little or no control over their bodies, teenage girls’ futures can be derailed and their potentials would never be realised,” he said
Lack of education or poverty?
It is generally believed that Rwandan parents are yet to embrace the culture of discussing with their children about sex related matters, making it hard for teenagers to stand firm to resist temptations.
Some fault poverty which makes teens easily enticed by things like money, material possessions, among others, which their parents can’t afford.
According to Diane Munyana, a young girl, lack of sex education from parents and teachers is the main cause of pregnancies among teenagers.
She also called on those who are lucky to have people who educate them about these issues to take heed of their advice.
However, Colette Mukandahiro, a parent, points to poverty as the root cause of pregnancies among teenagers. “Poor girls are easily tempted by those who give them nice things,” she said.
“We, parents, are the ones to blame. When you follow your children up, they will most certainly follow the right way,” said Silvere Munzanire, a parent.
The World Population Day is an annual event observed on July 11 to build better awareness of population issues and their relationship to development.
Rwanda moved the event to a later date because of the African Union Summit that was taking place in Kigali around the same time.