Lack of proper coordination and isolated efforts continue to hinder the fight against unwanted pregnancies among teen girls and there is need for all stakeholders to revise ways to work together and end the vice.
The issue was raised by officials on Wednesday during a National Colloquium on ending teen pregnancies, organised by the Catholic Church’s Commission for Education (SNEC).
Teen pregnancies remain an issue where a large number of girls fall victim and drop out of school to endure life hardships as young mothers, among other issues.
Official statistics indicate that over 17,500 teen girls became pregnant in 2016 and the number remained almost constant the next year.
In addition to early parenthood, officials said the phenomenon affects the very fabric of the family and society leading to abortions, family conflicts, post-traumatic disorders, among others.
However, dealing with the issue to either curb or minimise the vice remains a challenge and officials said it would only be possible if all stakeholders had a common understanding and spoke same language on the matter.
According to Isaac Munyakazi, the State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, there is incoherence regarding how messages are passed on to fight unwanted pregnancies.
He said that what schools teach is affected by the culture in society whereby some parents think it is inappropriate to talk about sexual reproduction with their children while at churches, they just stick to preaching abstinence and avoid other factors.
“We all need to speak the same language to curb unwanted pregnancies,” said the minister.
“If we teach sexual reproductive education in schools but parents stick to the old culture and can hardly talk to their kids while the church preach not to commit adultery, then we can’t deal with this alarming issue,” he said
He added that the Ministry of Education was also aware that apart from unwanted pregnancies, there are also other diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
“The government is keen on advocacy of abstinence but also looking for ways to protect young adolescences from unintended pregnancies,” he added.
He challenged the meeting to discuss pertinent issues and explore policies and challenges and design the way forward, adding that the Government was ready to adopt their recommendation.
He said that the issue of unwanted pregnancies should be looked from various angles unlike currently where more efforts are focused on teen girls.
“There is a tendency to focus on teen girls when it comes to encouraging them to avoid unintended pregnancies, even in schools you realise it is the same, this should stop and we need to engage males as well,” he said.
He said there are other key factors contributing to the rising number teen pregnancies that include technology, peer pressure, and limited knowledge on the matter.
According to Bishop Philippe Rukamba, the head of the Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops in Rwanda, while the Catholic Church does not support use of contraceptives, it fights teen pregnancies.
“You can’t just tell a kid to use contraceptives and condoms. If children become sexually active, they will grow with that culture; and, as Catholic Church, we say it is not a sustainable solution,” he said.
The viable solution would be to teach children to abstain. There is need for families and communities to encourage the youth to fight unwanted pregnancies. It is an issue of society and we all need to be on the same page,” he said.