Religious leaders have been urged to use their influence to help stamp out child sexual violence and teenage pregnancy in the country.
The Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Nadine Umutoni Gatsinzi, made the call yesterday during a meeting with religious leaders, organised by the umbrella body of human rights organisations in Rwanda (CLADHO).
It was convened to discuss the fight against child sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy in Rwanda under the theme, “role of religious leaders in making Rwanda a land of opportunities without child sexual violence and teenage pregnancy.”
The 2014/15 Demographic and Health survey shows that teenage pregnancy rates in Rwanda increased from 6.1 per cent in 2010 to 7.3 per cent in 2015.
The rapid assessment carried out in 2016 in 52 sectors, revealed that 818 teenage girls got pregnant before the age of 18 years within a period of just two years.
PS Gatsinzi called for concerted efforts to revert the trend.
“Child sexual violence and teenage pregnancy comes with several consequences such as school dropout, poverty, delinquency, prostitution among others. This is why we need serious intervention. Considering that churches have a big audience we hope that this new collaboration with religious leaders can boost our efforts to end the vices.”
Gatsinzi urged parents and the community in general to develop a culture of reporting sexual abuse, observing that what affects a neighbor’s child today could also affect them in future.
Emmanuel Safari, the executive secretary of CLADHO called for more awareness among religious leaders to help deliver the message to their followers.
“We call upon religious leaders to include child sexual violence and pregnancies in their preaching. They need to encourage their followers to report cases they encounter so as to bring offenders to book. Also, churches can help the affected children in psychological, social reintegration as well as in financial support,” he said.
Bishop (Rtd) John Rucyahana, the chairperson of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission said religious leaders were committed to influencing behavior change.
“It is our responsibility as religious leaders to preach the gospel of love, preach against sin and promote ethical behavior. The extent of this problem shows that there is problem in the community,” he said. Rucyahana blamed parents for their reluctance and poor parenting.
“We shall constantly remind parents to fulfill their parental role, dedicating enough time to their children to be able to protect them from such harm,” he said.
Rucyahana also urged churches to establish youth friendly programmes to facilitate behavior change since teenagers comprise a special group.
They need enough care and messages to be able to make informed decisions when they encounter temptations, he noted.