Months after President Paul Kagame advised all stakeholders to dig deeper into the proposal to give teenagers as young as 15 access to contraceptives, opinion on the issue is still split, The New Times can reveal. Article 7 of the law relating to human reproductive health provides that every person having attained the maturity age has the right to decide for oneself in relation to human reproductive health issues. However, the maturity age is 18 years. Anyone below that age is considered a minor. It also states that a health professional who intends to provide healthcare services to a minor or an incapable person must endeavour to inform his/her parents or guardians and obtain their prior consent. A draft Bill seen by The New Times seeks to modify the law establishing medical professional liability insurance giving teenagers aged 15 and above the right to seek family planning methods without any restrictions. Aphrodis Kagaba, the Executive Director of Health Development Initiative (HDI), a health care advocacy organization that has been at the forefront of this advocacy, says that it is time to come back to the discussion table to forge a way forward to protect teenagers, especially against unwanted pregnancies. He said there was a need to have a national conversation that will actively involve teenagers so that they can share their views and to invest in providing them with more information to enable them to make informed choices. “Evidence indicates that teenagers are sexually active. We need to ensure that they are able to access those services so that we don’t have a scenario where a 14-year-old mother is getting pregnant again because of unnecessary legal barriers,” he said. Kagaba says that while conversations are necessary, the facts on paper indicate that teenagers as young as 14 are sexually active and the solution is to equip them with the contraception methods should they choose to take that route. For MP Suzanne Mukayijore, a member of the Rwanda Parliamentary Network on Population and Development, there is a need to exercise restraint, pointing out the need to consider other options first. “I find it hard to reconcile my brain with the idea of a 15-year-old using contraceptives. We need to first take intensive sensitisation programs to the grassroots level where we can push parents, teachers, religious and local leaders to preach the gospel of the dangers of premarital sex,” she said. She also pointed out the value of involving men and boys since they are at the centre of the issue, by making them understand the value of protecting young girls. She also called for emphasis on educating children and other members of the community about the value of speaking out. The Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform; Jean Bosco Nyemazi said that there is a need to consider all options before a decision to grant contraceptives are given a green light. “Have we really exhausted all options? The most important thing to do right now is to give these children the right information and challenge all stakeholders to do their part first. There are different perspectives and stakeholders to involve in this. We need a comprehensive survey that can give us some sort of direction on how best to approach this but let us not jump to contraceptives as the first option,” he said. MP Frank Habineza told this media house that the decision to allow under 18s access to contraceptives should be thought through carefully. “I feel that by giving this access, we will be giving these children the go-ahead to involve themselves in premarital sexual misconduct. We should get all these resources and instead, invest them in educating them about the advantages of not having sex at such an age,” he said. In their second periodic report for Rwanda, the African committee of experts on the rights of the child stressed that teenage pregnancy can be prevented if sexual reproductive health services are made available to adolescent girls. “The Committee recommends that the State Party sensitizes adolescent girls on contraception options including emergency contraception pills and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Moreover, the Committee recommends that the State Party makes contraception available for adolescent girls,” it recommended. According to official statistics, pregnancies among girls aged below 18 rose from 17,337 in 2017 to 19,832 a year after.