Move to lift restrictions on teens’ access to contraceptives stirs mixed reactions

A kiosk near Amahoro Stadium in Remera where condoms are availed free of charge. The Government is planning to review the laws in order to allow more teenagers to have access to family planning methods. Nadege Imbabazi.

The recent disclosure by Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente that Government was planning to review the laws in order to allow more teenagers to have access to family planning methods has attracted disapproval and praise in equal measures.

The premier announced the plan while appearing before the Senate to explain the Government’s efforts in terms of funding, sensitisation, education, and service provision in family planning.

Dr Aphrodis Kagaba, the Executive Director of Health Development Initiative (HDI), welcomed the proposal.

HDI, along with twelve other civil society and private sector organisations as well as about forty concerned individuals sent a letter to the Minister for Health requesting for two specific articles in the country’s health reproduction and medical liabilities laws to be changed in order to ease adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health services.

Specifically, Kagaba said, Article 7 of the Human Reproductive Health Law on the right to decide in reproductive health matters and Article 11 of the medical professional liability insurance law needed to be reviewed.

Article 7 of the reproductive health law stipulates that “subject to provisions of other laws, every person having attained the majority age has the right to decide for oneself in relation to human reproductive health issues”.

Kagaba said that the article makes it nearly impossible for many teenagers to independently make decisions on seeking reproductive healthcare services because they are below 18, the age of consent in the country.

Article 11 of the medical professional liability insurance law stipulates that “the health professional who intends to provide healthcare services to a minor or an incapable person must endeavour to inform his/her parents or his/her representative or his/her guardian and obtain their prior consent”.

The article adds that “in case of emergency and in the absence of his/her parents, legal representative or guardian for their consent, the opinion of another competent health professional shall be required before making a decision”.

Kagaba and other advocates of family planning and reproductive health services argued in their letter to the Minister that the two provisions in the country’s laws have made it nearly impossible for teens to freely seek reproductive health services.

That’s why they have welcomed the premier’s promise that the Government will move to change the laws.

“No children are ready to tell their parents or guardians that they are going to take contraceptives,” Kagaba said in an interview with The New Times on Monday.

He added: “The legal framework needs to be worked on so that all the barriers to the provision of reproductive healthcare for teenagers are removed. Teenagers need access to contraception without necessarily making it a condition for their parents to approve”.

On the other hand, there are many stakeholders in family planning and education sector who have cautioned that the move was a mistake, arguing that access to family planning services, including contraceptives, should be a matter of married couples.

The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda, Mgr Antoine Kambanda, has said that promoting the use of contraceptives for teenagers would bring about sexual immorality and delinquency among the country’s youth.

And, Jean-Léonard Sekanyange, chairperson of the civil society platform in Rwanda, pretty much agrees with the Archbishop’s viewpoint.

“Family planning methods were designed for married couples, not teenagers. If the intention is to reduce unwanted pregnancies among teenagers, other measures can be taken instead of allowing teens to have access to family planning tools,” he told The New Times, emphasising that teens should instead be encouraged to abstain from indulging in sexual intercourse.

Sekanyange warned that cases of indiscipline among teenagers might rise in case access to family planning methods are freely extended to teens because parents and teachers would no longer be able to warn them against dangers associated with unsafe sexual intercourse.

The Government is under pressure to take measures that would help limit the current number of unwanted teen pregnancies in the country, which hovers around 17000 every year.