Activists have called for quick intervention to help teenagers who were impregnated during Covid-19 school break go back to school.
The call follows an assessment by non-governmental organisations and the Ministry of Education that is going on across the country on challenges that may hinder adolescents, especially girls, from returning to school during school reopening. This is aimed at controlling school dropout rate.
Reports show, for instance, that at least 550 teenagers from Bugesera District were impregnated up to October this year.
In Rwamagana District, 300 teenagers were impregnated from July 2019 to June 2020, of whom 150 teenagers were impregnated during the pandemic.
Reports show that in the past eight months when Covid-19 broke out, 424 girls under the age of 18 were impregnated in Northern Province.
These are additional to thousands of teenagers who were impregnated over the past five years and facing many consequences, including dropping out of school.
In 2016, 17,849 teenagers were impregnated across the country, 17, 337 teenagers were impregnated in 2017 while 19, 832 teenagers were impregnated in 2018 — and from January to August 2019 alone, 15, 656 teenagers had been impregnated across the country.
It is estimated that the numbers could surge following the Covid-19 pandemic impact that left many girls vulnerable to unprotected sexual intercourse.
Most of the girls never go back to school, therefore, activists call for quick intervention.
“We conducted an assessment in Kamonyi and Gasabo districts. Testimonies show that there are many girls who were impregnated during the peak of Covid-19. Other young girls moved from rural areas for domestic work in Kigali,” says Yvette Nyinawumuntu, the executive director of Save Generation Organization, a local non-government organisation dedicated to promoting and advocating for children and women’s rights.
She says that others went to work in some factories and mining sites, while some teenagers who were impregnated ended up aborting, and this affected them.
“Others are facing extreme poverty and hunger due to Covid-19 that impacted their families. Parents could not afford school fees. All these issues could prevent them from going back to school and we want the Ministry of Education and stakeholders to do an assessment and come up with solutions before schools reopen,” she says.
According to health researcher and reproductive health expert, Dr Aniceth Nzabonimpa, family poverty, child labour, early marriages, delinquency, domestic work, teen pregnancy and unsafe abortion that escalated during the pandemic might prevent many youth from going back to school if quick intervention isn’t done.
Besides advocacy for girls going back to school, it also includes providing free access to menstrual hygiene materials.
“There is a need to advocate for girls’ access to free menstrual hygiene materials. There is need for an action plan of implementation of the taken actions and strategies to help girls return to school,” he says.
Girls’ back to school campaign
With the “Girls Go Back to School” campaign, the Education Ministry has been tasked to tackle the issue.
Frodouard Tuyishimire, Director of Health and HIV Prevention, Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), says that the ministry is conducting an assessment that will guide intervention.
“We are collecting figures. School head teachers and teachers will also be conducting assessments to know children who might not have gone back to school so that we work together to follow up on them and go back to look for them where they are,” he says, adding that a campaign is starting to educate parents and stakeholders on the school dropout matter.
The MINEDUC official, however, says there might be difficulty in knowing all impregnated teenagers since many hide their situation, noting they will be gradually discovered even when schools have started.
He says in collaboration with parents and schools, the pregnant teens and those who have given birth can continue to pursue their studies.
“We have warned schools against dismissing girls who face this issue. Instead, parents can work with schools to retain them as long as their parents help to look after the new born babies or get caregivers,” he says.Follow NkurunzizaMiche