When Esther fell in love with her male classmate, everything seemed ok. She always walked around the school hand–in-hand with her boyfriend. To Esther, friends and books were no longer the most important thing in life; after all she could find everything in her loving Ivan. Unfortunately for Esther, the ‘good’ life did not last. When her male classmate discovered that she was three months pregnant, the love was no more. He abandoned Esther and refused to take responsibility.Esther suffered a lot of emotional distress. She eventually dropped out of school.
Esther is not the first or last victim of a teen relationship gone sour since it is natural to develop feelings for the opposite sex.
Shamim Nirere, a school based mentor from GS Mata in Muhanga District, says students will always look for intimacy at a certain stage in life.
“When students are in puberty, they develop an urge for affection from members of the opposite sex,” Nirere explains.
But that is not the worst a child can do. According to Rev. Jackline Ilibagiza, a counsellor and nurse at Remera Martyrs School, once the student has found the ‘love’ they want, they tend to shift their focus away from their parents and relatives to their peers.
“This kind of puppy love or crush often makes students lose focus. In the process it contributes to poor academic performance and increases sexual relationships,” Ilibaziga explains.
Christine Kayumba, a finance student at Independent Institute of Lay Adventists of Kigali (INLAK), believes we should blame the increasing number of teen relationships on technological advancement.
“Students spend most of their time watching soaps on television where dancing, drinking and kissing is the order of the day. These scenes encourage students to experiment hence falling in love,” Kayumba mentions.
However Paul Swaga, a lecturer at Akilah Institute for Women in Kibagabaga, Kigali, says the lack of parental advice regarding sex-related matters and the absence of senior women teachers in most schools is the reason teenage relationships are on the increase.
“Without senior women teachers in schools, learners cannot be designated separate time to discuss issues of reproductive health in a more open manner,” Swaga says.
Effect of relationships
Academics say teen romance can lead to unwanted pregnancies.
Ali Mushumba, the headmaster of Remera Martyrs School, says early pregnancy can seriously affect the students involved since in most cases they are financially and emotionally unprepared for the consequences.
“When there is a breakup, girls get more depressed than boys. Some of them reject school while others commit suicide,” Mushumba explains.
The role of parents and educators
“If parents were openly discussing sexual matters with their adolescent children, students would know what to expect in such relationships and how to deal with disappointments,” Nirere says.
For Mushumba, parents and teachers must not discourage friendship between boys and girls because the two can co-exist without engaging in reckless sexual activity.
“What students need is proper guidance and advice. As they say, ‘it is better to teach your child to make wise decisions than police them all the time,’” Mushumba adds.
However, Swaga is convinced that with sex education revived in schools the challenge will be tackled.
“Gone are the days when only boys did the hunting. Even girls hunt for boys these days. That’s why senior teachers should organize sessions to talk to adolescent students about relationships,” Swaga adds.
Catherine Mercy, an Education Signature Coordinator with Save the Children International, adds that the cost of opening up to young ones is much cheaper than the cost of repairing damage.
“Parents should always make it a point to discuss issues of sexuality with their children rather than wait for the outcomes,” Mercy says.
Concerning the issue of some learners doing the unexpected once dumped by their lovers. Mercy blames this on the low self confidence due to lack of a close person to open up to.
“Once a student has been seeing their lover as a confidant in a relationship, the break up may drive them into actions of suicide, “she adds.
It is for this reason that Bena Niyibizi, a parent of two in Remera, advises parents to be close to their children.
“My child is 15 and I can already tell that she may have started developing sexual interest. I monitor what she watches on television and what she wears because it helps me predict her motive,” Niyibizi explains.
Deus Twagirimana, a parent in Zindiro, Kigali, also faults parents for concentrating more on work and ignoring their parenting role.
He says: “These days parenting is done by house-helps and television because the parents are not available. So can you expect such a child to differentiate between what’s good and bad?
Dr Abdallah Baguma, the Ag. Director of Academic Quality Higher Education Council, says that in a dynamic society there is need to create harmony between the cultural values and the desired changes in society.
“Much as parents have now devoted less time for contact between their children at some point, they should strike a balance to meet the family needs,” Baguma argues.
Parents, students discuss relationships
Everyone falls in love at one time. That is why parents should open up about sex-related matters to their children lest they crash. In fact I usually send them to spend some time with their relatives for sex education.
The day I see or feel any changes in my body, I will not hesitate to ask my parents what the problem could be. Sometimes you may feel shy but you can’t learn if you don’t ask. And you can only learn from our elders because they have been there before.
It is not a crime to discuss sex issues with our parents or teachers since they are there to advise us. I even introduce my male friends to my parents and they are okay with it since there are no strings attached.
I can easily confide in my mother or female friend about my sexual life. But we have always been advised to abstain from sex until marriage. I believe that’s the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and abortion.
We always try to talk to our children about relationships and how to handle them. I also ask the teachers to speak to the children in case I’m unable. However, I think girls need this advice more because they are vulnerable. It should, however, be noted that it is easier if your child is free with you.
John Baptiste Niyonkuru
Sometimes I find it hard to discuss relationships with my children but I think all children need to be guided. Although sex education is important for both boys and girls, I think girls need special attention because they are easily lured by men.