SARAH Umutoni got her first menstruation at the age of 14 in senior two. The pain she felt each time she was in her menstruation period was unbearable.
“When I turned 16 years, a 19-year-old male friend told me that the best way to deal with the pain was to have sex. He convinced me that I couldn’t get pregnant if I had sex the first time. As naïve as I was regarding the topic, I accepted, little did I know that his ill advice would change my life forever,” Umutoni who is now 26 years old narrates.
She missed her period for two months and thought the problem had been dealt with.
“It was when I missed my period for four months that I talked to my elder sister’s friend. She is the one who revealed she suspected I was pregnant. When we carried out the pregnancy test, it was positive. I was in shock. I could not tell my father because I thought he would kill me and since my mother had passed away when I was just 10 years old, it was my elder sister who broke the news to my father,” Umutoni explains.
Unlike many parents who can’t stand a child who gets pregnant in their home, Umutoni was lucky. “When I realised that I was pregnant I thought my father would kill me but he was actually very supportive because he realised that I was not fully informed about the changes in my body and was manipulated and lied to. I believe there are many other girls out there who would fall in the same trap like me. Just like they say ignorance is indeed very dangerous. I’m going to make sure that my 10-year-old daughter doesn’t go through what I went through,” Umutoni reveals.
Magnitude of the problem
The latest Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in school report says that 522 unwanted pregnancies among girls between 10 and 18 years were registered last year in schools countrywide.
The report, released by the Gender Monitoring Office early this year, indicated that most of the cases were in Karongi (58), Kayonza (53), Gatsibo (52) and Gasabo (50).
Based on a UNFPA‘s State of World Population 2013 report: Motherhood in Childhood - Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, more than 7 million girls in poor countries give birth before 18 each year.
The report shows that out of the 7.3 million births worldwide, 2 million are girls 14 years old or younger, who suffer the gravest long-term health and social consequences from pregnancy, including high rates of maternal death and obstetric fistula.
The report indicated that early pregnancy takes a toll on a girl’s health, education and rights. It also prevents her from realising her potential and adversely impacts the baby. A country’s economy is also affected by teenage pregnancies as adolescent mothers are prevented from entering the workforce.
Several possible solutions to deal with the challenge of adolescent pregnancy were also highlighted in the report. The main one was changing the attitude and actions of the society in which a girl lives such as keeping girls in school, stopping child marriage, changing attitudes about gender roles and gender equality, increasing adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health, including contraception and providing better support to adolescent mothers.
Rwanda’s latest Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in schools report says that 522 unwanted pregnancies among girls between 10 and 18 years were registered last year in schools countrywide.
The report, released by the Gender Monitoring Office early this year, indicated that most of the cases were in Karongi (58), Kayonza (53), Gatsibo (52) and Gasabo (50). Experts say this is a worrying number and it could get worse if not checked.
Are Rwandan girls informed about early pregnancy?
Several stake holders are at the forefront of addressing this problem. Girl Hub Rwanda has empowered thousands of adolescent girls to reach their potential and lift themselves out of poverty. It also develops social communications to inspire and engage girls and drive social norms change to elevate the visibility of girls as well as making informed choices about their reproductive health.
Girl Hub’s popular Ni Nyampinga magazine and radio show has become the main source of information about adolescence topics for teenage girls in Rwanda.
“Ni Nyampinga” can be translated as “it is the beautiful girl inside and out who makes good decisions.” This saying in Kinyarwanda defines successful girls as leaders of their community.
Ni Nyampinga is carrying out road shows across Rwanda as a way of inspiring girls to fulfill their potential. The road shows which started on November 20, 2013 end this weekend on November 30th, 2013.
In an interview with 19-year-old Josephine Uwimana, during the road show that was held in Ruhango District, in Buhanda Cell, she said that there is a lot she has learnt about adolescent pregnancy especially from the Ni Nyampinga radio shows which air on Radio Rwanda every Tuesday and Saturday at 12:30pm.
“I’m happy that I have seen the presenters of Ni Nyampinga radio show. It’s great to see them in person and to find out that most of them are my age mates. This is so inspiring. I have also enjoyed the performances about the dangers of early pregnancies and how to protect ourselves from getting pregnant before we are married. I believe this message benefits us as teenagers,” Uwimana discloses.
Also over 90,000 copies of Ni Nyampinga magazine are given out free of charge to girls between the ages of 10-23 and boys as well.
“I have learnt from the Ni Nyampinga radio show especially about the kind of life I have to lead as an adolescent and how I should study hard to excel so that I can have a bright future. For example the stories published in Ni Nyampinga Magazine are very inspiring especially the story I read about the 23-year-old Claudine Nyirantwari. It’s inspiring how at the age of 17, Nyirantwari had her first child but that didn’t stop her from completing school so as to have a bright future,” Uwimana reveals.
What are the parents doing?
Chantal Uwamahoro, a Resident of Remera and a mother of four, said that the best way to deal with adolescent pregnancy is if parents openly speak to the teenagers about the body changes they are to experience.
“I know sex talk is still considered a taboo in the Rwandan society but our children are exposed to many things that they need our guidance for them to live responsibly. If as a parent I don’t provide my daughter or son with the right information about the changes they experience as adolescents, then they will seek for the information from the wrong people or sources,” Uwamahoro emphasises.
Uwamahoro says with the technological advancement, teenagers are exposed to a lot of information which can be good or bad.
“As Rwandan parents we should guide our teenagers through the changes they go through instead of letting them use the internet or advice from peers given its related dangers like misguidance. My 12-year-old daughter is about to start her period but I made sure I inform her of what to expect without using riddles so that she is not deceived by anyone with ill intentions,” Uwamahoro reveals.
She adds,“Teenagers are very vulnerable to change and information therefore parents should not shy away and let other people take up their role of nurturing.”
What the Civil Society is doing about teen pregnancies?
Besides the youth friendly centres that were set up by the Rwandan government in each district to offer reproductive health services to the youth, the civil society has also been involved.
Cassien Havugimana, Programmes Director at the Health Development Initiative (HDI) said that they are carrying out a programme called Sexual Health and Reproductive Education in about 10 secondary schools in order to address the challenge of adolescent pregnancies in Rwanda.
“Although by next year we hope the programme will cover 20 secondary schools, we discovered that many Rwandan teenagers are not informed about their reproductive rights thus leading to cases like adolescent pregnancies and its dangers to young girls especially health wise. The students constantly reveal to us that they lack people who are friendly to talk to about different reproductive health issues,” Havugimana reveals.
He added that through Sexual Health and Reproductive Education in secondary schools, teachers are trained on how they can speak to teenagers or students about reproductive health issues.
He adds, “We provide monthly newsletters to students with responses to their questions about sexual and reproductive health as well as organised debates, poems and competitions about the dangers of adolescent pregnancy. We also hold sports tournaments so as to easily pass on reproductive health messages.”
Health Development Initiative-Rwanda (HDI) is a registered non-profit organisation based in Kigali.