Most of the children born to teen mothers are not registered by the state, a senior official at the Gender Monitoring Office has said.
Chief Gender Monitor Rose Rwabuhihi said this made it hard for policymakers to integrate these children in the national planning process, calling on local leaders to facilitate the children’s civil registration.
“We should know that these children are Rwandans just like any other citizen,” she said.
Rwabuhihi was speaking Sunday at Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)’s general assembly in Eastern Province, which discussed challenges affecting teenage mothers and their children.
Not registering them, she said, means that they hardly benefit from government programmes such as Inkongoro y’Umwana, a nutritional initiative under which children from impoverished households receive free milk.
Teen mothers face wide-ranging challenges before and after giving birth.
According to the Gender Monitoring Office, defilement is responsible for some 20,000 pregnancies every year in the country.
This number is big enough to make up an entire sector’s population, the administrative unit just below the district level.
“We call on district mayors, executive secretaries of sectors and other officials to facilitate the registration of these children,” she said, also urging all service providers, such as health facilities, to help take care of the children whether officially registered or not.
One of the reasons why there is low registration, the Gender Monitoring Office says, is that most teenage mothers who were sexually abused don’t have access to antenatal care during pregnancy due to the fact that they are largely stigmatised in society.
“With the first antenatal visit requiring the presence of husband, it is not that easy for teens who were sexually abused,” Rwabuhihi said.
She added: “When they tell her to bring her husband, she goes to the street and picks a bicycle-taxi rider to help her out and that’s a kind of relationship started with another man; will he give her that service for free?”
Rwabuhihi said that such a situation exposes such girls to more problems.
“Service providers, help us, encourage the pregnant teens to visit health centres to complete the four antenatal visits,” she added.
Saverna Uwimana, a rural development activist, told the media last week that some of these children are not registered because their teen mothers are too young to posses the national ID.
One can only access the Rwandan ID once they turn 16.
“Some of these mothers are barely 15,” she said, adding that in order to navigate through such challenges, some of the teen mothers opt to register their newborns under the names of their own parents.
“A child must be registered to their own parents, not the grandparents,” she explained.
Ephrem Rafiki, the Director of Kibungo Health Centre, Ngoma District, told The New Times, that only few pregnant teens go for antenatal care.
Even most of those who come do so when they are almost due, he said.
However, Rafiki said they do not require pregnant teens to bring their ‘husbands’ with them during antenatal care visits.
“When they come, we treat them in the same way we treat other women, but we add the counseling element, we try to find out if she was raped. When we discover some problems, we refer them to Isange One Stop Centre at Kibungo Referral Hospital for specialised care,” he added.
Isange One Stop Centres are police-run facilities that provide specialised care to victims of sexual abuse.
Rafiki pointed out that check-ups for an expectant mother allows healthcare workers to know if there is a problem with the pregnancy, and if so, they try to help accordingly.
He said this is even more important for teens because they are more vulnerable.
Immaculee Nyirayizeyimana, the Executive Secretary of Nyamirama Sector, Kayonza District, told The New Times that although only a few teen mothers register their children, a mother has the right to have her child registered with the authorities even without the presence of the father.
Previously, she said, the father was required for a child’s registration. “Both parents were previously needed for civil registration of the child but notaries no longer deny these services on the basis of the absence of one parent.
But she acknowledged that even adult women who have no husbands are hesitant to take their newborns for registration.
“They fear responsibility when they learn that the child will officially be put under their custody upon registration and that the absent father will not be legally recognised,” she said.