15-year-olds could soon access contraceptives

After years of debate, the Government is revising a law that will see the age at which one can legally access family planning methods lowered from 18 to 15 years, The New Times can exclusively 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 endeavor to inform his/her parents or guardians and obtain their prior consent.

But 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.

“Every person having attained the age of fifteen (15) years has the right to decide for oneself in relation to human reproductive health. The consent of the parent or guardian will be only required for incapables persons,” it reads in part.

The development comes almost one year after Prime Minister Eduoard Ngirente openly admitted to members of the Senate that the Government was cognisant of the limits that the current law puts on teenagers, some of which he said could be blamed for the surge in the number of teenage pregnancies in the country.

Ngirente was addressing the Senate on what the government is doing in terms of budget, sensitization, education and service providers with regard to promoting family planning in line with the country’s Vision 2050.

Responding to the issue of prohibitive laws, Ngirente acknowledged that it did not make sense to ask teachers to educate young adults about reproductive health and safe sex methods when the methods are inaccessible. 

“Yes young adults below 18 are required to go with their parents to access contraceptives yet these are the most vulnerable when it comes to unwanted pregnancies. I would like to tell you that we are changing that because we found it inconveniencing,” he said.

Speaking to The New Times, Aphrodis Kagaba, the Executive Director of Health Development Initiative, a health care advocacy organization, confirmed that discussions had been ongoing within the adolescents’ circles, civil society organizations and on the Government.

He said that the conversation that most stakeholders are having is that the age should be lowered to at least 15 meaning that anyone who is 15 and above should be able to seek these services without requiring parental approval.

“There is a proposal to lower the age to 15. Though as someone working with very young people I would think that lowering it to 12 would be better, I think 15 would still be a very great step in the right direction,” he said.

Speaking at the ceremony to release the findings of the Rwanda Population-based HIV Assessment, on Tuesday, the Director-General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, said that it was about time to find a new approach to deal with the rising number of teenagers with HIV and teenage pregnancies.

“There is a relationship between HIV and teenage pregnancies. The figures are closely related and when you review them, you can see that one is like a branch of the other. Researchers bring us the data but we need to work with partners to find a sustainable solution,” he said.

The numbers

In 2016, a survey conducted by CLADHO in the 10 districts of Kicukiro, Gasabo, Nyarugenge, Kamonyi, Huye, Karongi, Nyamasheke, Gicumbi, Rwamagana, and Bugesera, discovered that pregnancy among young girls was rampant.

Among the surveyed pregnant girls, the research indicated that coerced sex accounted for 87.7 percent.

The study also discovered that 49 percent of the girls are impregnated by colleagues and 20 percent by family friends. The other 2 percent are impregnated by their teachers while 1 percent is by local leaders.

The survey showed that the consequences that follow these pregnancies include; school dropouts (50 percent), poverty (19 percent), depression (11 percent) while others such as discrimination account for 5 percent.

The 2016 report revealed that 99 percent of pregnant teenagers never received any legal support while 88 percent did not receive support from the fathers of their children.

The study also showed that only 5 percent of the babies born this way were officially registered.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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