Twenty four year-old Josiane Bwiza dropped out of school when she was only 16 years old. Her dropping out had nothing to do with lack of school fees. It was a result of teenage pregnancy, a problem that has persisted despite concerted efforts to stamp out the problem.
“I used to go out with a man who showed interest and got me a fancy phone and pocket money. I was eventually impregnated at the age of 16. My parents were kind enough to support me and the baby, but the consequences of the incident shattered my life,” Bwiza narrates.
Like Bwiza, many young girls have been entrapped into a web of teenage pregnancy fuelled by peer pressure and love for free material things. Men lure school girls with gifts like phones and money in exchange for sex. And the gloomy picture seem not about to come to an end as several reports continue to cite teenage pregnancy as a major barrier to keeping girls in school with reports indicating that as many as 818 teenage girls in 52 sectors across the country became pregnant before turning 18 years within a space of two years.
Are government interventions working?
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) in partnership with the Ministry of Education regularly conduct campaigns against teenage pregnancies.
Lydia Mitali, the officer in charge of Girl Education in the Ministry of Education says that the various campaigns have helped in reducing cases of teenage pregnancies.
The campaigns, she says focus on the leading causes of teenage pregnancies and the provinces that are mostly affected.
“We give opportunity to all teenagers, both boys and girls, to be heard, through debates that are organized in all schools to give them a platform to express their views and opinions and clubs for anti - teenage pregnancy are formed in all schools,” she says.
Prior to these campaigns, meeting with stakeholders involved in social protection and particularly in child participation are held at Ministerial level and with partners so as to have inclusive views on how the campaign can be conducted.
Mitali says this has not only had a positive impact on the teenagers in terms of knowledge sharing, but has also enabled the ministry to get feedback from the teenagers on the impact of the campaigns.
Taking the drive out of schools
In many cases those responsible for impregnating the girls are not within the school. Mitali notes that some cases of teenage pregnancy happen out of schools and those responsible are old men like traders, motorcyclists, drivers and sugar daddies.
“We also reach out to the community leaders because we realized that teenage pregnancy is are not a problem among only school peers but also traders and motorcyclists in communities,” she says.
Mitali is optimistic that the national campaign at provincial level will go a long way in addressing the problem. The campaign provides room for girls and boys from different schools to contribute to the discussions on their role in fighting teenage pregnancy, where they look at it as their own concern and try to find a sustainable solution.
She warns that teenage pregnancy is a setback in women empowerment as it undermines the affected girl’s ability to exercise her right to education, and health among others.
“It also prevents the girl from realizing her potential and adversely impacts the baby. The country’s economy is also affected by teenage pregnancies as adolescent mothers are prevented from entering the workforce. It is for this reason that the campaign also aims at tackling the causes that lead to the persistent cases of teenage pregnancy,” she explains.
While explaining the problem, Mitali noted that in the past, poverty was believed to be the leading cause of teenage pregnancy but the causes are now far from that.
According to her, the common causes now include parental negligence, with many schools taking over the responsibility of parents, and the love for free expensive material things by girls.
The official stressed that with the government’s free school feeding programme, girls should be able to study and feed without looking to men for pocket money.
“The ministry’s policy is also that no pregnant girl should be chased out of school apart from when one is not feeling well or not comfortable going back to the school. Girls also have the right to go back to school after delivery to complete their studies,” Mitali adds.
The role of parents
Claudin Batesi, 47, a resident of Kicukiro and a mother of two, says that parents have a big responsibility to play, but most of them are so busy with their jobs, leaving the raising of their children to teachers and housemaids.
According to Batesi, if parents took the time to train their children on the consequences of materialism and unprotected sex, their children can easily confide in them and avoid being taken advantage of.
“The parenting role has been totally abandoned, which is why children are straying as there’s nothing much teachers can do if parents aren’t playing their role,” she says.
Georgina Batamuriza, a senior six vacist from FAWE Girls School says that teachers should intensify their role to curb this challenge by discussing the issue in schools.
She advises that clubs should be set up in all schools where students can discuss such issues and learn more about sex education. Through these clubs, the schools can bring speakers from outside who have testimonies to share their experiences so that the students can be inspired to make the right decisions as well.
What can be done to curb down the rising cases of teenage pregnancy?
There should be programmes in schools such as career guidance to motivate teenage girls on career development and what more they can achieve after school. Many girls who do not have any hope for their future do not value their lives and are likely to fall prey to men who do not care about their ambitions
Brian Ganza, social worker
Parents and guardians have the first responsibility in ensuring that their children are informed and prepared for the sexual challenges ahead, starting with the changes in their bodies. Without their parents’ counsel, young girls can easily fall victim to their youthful temptations.
Annet Agaba, accountant
The ignorance in students that results in early pregnancies can be blamed on some of our parents and teachers who shy away from discussing such issues with us. They should be more open and tell us about these things at school and home so we can get information from the right people.
Catherine Umutoniwase, student
We cannot hide from the reality that some students are sexually active and engage in unsafe sex. However, giving them easy access to condoms and teaching them how to protect themselves from unsafe sex will help solve the issue of unwanted pregnancies in schools.
Stuart Muhwezi, trader