When your baby was born, it was joy and excitement. You cuddled her and imagined a beautiful life ahead of her. Before long you saw her take her first steps and fast forward, she is in school. Everything is going well but as you look forward to celebrating her 18th birthday - the news comes crashing down on you. “Mom I’m sorry..I’m pregnant.” As a parent, what would you do if your teenage daughter told you such on her 18th birthday?
Teenage pregnancy is a rather frightening reality that many parents dread. So how can a parent handle this troubling situation?
20-year-old Jovia Uwamariya recalls the traumatic experience that started the day she missed her period.
“I still remember the devastated look on my mother’s face when I told her I was 16 weeks pregnant. She was silent for a while, and then she whispered ‘I thought I raised you better than this.’
“At only 17, I was expecting a child; I had to drop out of school. But one thing I am grateful for is that my mother was there for me. Despite the disappointment, she gave me all the support and care I needed,” she narrates.
Uwamariya says that after giving birth, she later managed to go back to school and picked up the pieces of her life. And all that was possible because her family never abandoned her in her time of need.
Teenage pregnancy should be a concern in Rwanda.The Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (RDHS) 2014 to 2015 shows a worrying trend of increase in teenage mothers mostly aged 15 to 19.
According to an article published in The New Times in February this year, titled ‘Combating teenage pregnancy is a shared responsibility,’ over 600 cases of teenage pregnancies were recorded across the country and the Western Province had the highest number of adolescent pregnancies, with 177 cases recorded in 2011.
According to Joyce Kirabo, a counselor with Rwanda Education Board, teenage pregnancies are mostly a result of financial issues as some young girls are lured with materialistic gifts by men who can provide these things.
“In most cases, young girls search for worldly pleasures and gifts in exchange for sex; they end up pregnant. The girl may want money from a sugar daddy but at the end of the day she ends up giving in to his demands and getting pregnant,” Kirabo says.
Kirabo, however, says that sometimes, some parents also don’t play their role as far as sharing the necessary information is concerned.
“Parents sometimes contribute to the problem. They don’t sit down with their children to talk about pre-marital sex and its related dangers. In the end, children find it hard to open up to their parents,” the counselor says.
She advises that in case a parent, finds themselves in such an unfortunate situation, they should find ways to deal with the situation without being harsh.
Once the problem has come, Kirabo says, nothing can reverse it; the only sensible way to handle it is to remain calm and deal with it like a parent.
“As a counselor I recommend that parents should first of all not be harsh because the child might run away or even opt for other ways out like an illegal abortion. Some children even end up committing suicide,” Kirabo says.
She adds that unfortunate as the situation may be, it’s not the end of the world if your teen daughter gets pregnant. It’s best to support the child and after that, she can always resume studies.
What parents say
Margret Ufitumukiza a mother of two young girls and a boy, says she would stand the humiliation if her child came home pregnant.
“Our society ridicules people who get children out of the wedlock, so having your young daughter get pregnant is a huge blow and that’s why I always find time to talk to my daughters.
This creates an open relationship and if there are advances from dubious men, my children can easily come to me,” Ufitumukiza says.
Ufitumukiza encourages other parents to do the same because children are innocent and can easily be tempted.
An open relationship with their parents gives them the guidance they need.
For Yvette Mutoni, her daughter coming home pregnant would break her heart.However, she would stand by her and provide all the support she needs but would never choose options such as an abortion for a solution.
She says, “Some mothers out of fear of embarrassment in society opt for abortion to save their children (and themselves) the disgrace. This is wrong as some ultimately lose their children to the hand of death since abortion is risky and later wallow in regret.
“I know it’s a hard situation but hard situations need hard decisions too. Take heart as a mother and look after your child because in such cases, a girl needs her mother more than ever,” Mutoni advises.
Ritah Umurerwa is an accountant and a single mother of two. She testifies to having given birth while in school, but her mother’s perseverance was the main reason she didn’t drop out and right now, she has a degree and a promising career.
“Mothers tend to be harsh when their daughters get pregnant, this doesn’t change anything but rather, worsens the situation. To err is human and that’s why parents need to be patient enough and sympathise with their children,” Umurerwa says.
Umurerwa also disagrees with some parents who sometimes resort to forced marriage to cover up the mess.
“The boy responsible could still be young, financially unstable and emotionally not ready for marriage. Forcing a girl into such a situation could make the rest of her life miserable yet she could have had a second chance at a normal life if only she got a chance from her parents,” Umurerwa adds.
How to prevent teenage pregnancy
1. Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes. Communicating with your children about sex, love, and relationships is often more successful when you are clear in your own mind about these issues.
2. Talk with your children early and often about sex, and be specific. Young people have lots of questions about sex, love, and relationships. And they often say that the source they’d most like to go for answers is their parents. Tell teens candidly and confidently what you think and why you believe what you do. If you’re not sure about some issues, tell them about that, too. Be sure to have a two-way conversation, not a one-way lecture.
3. Supervise and monitor your children and adolescents.Establish rules, curfews, and standards of expected behaviour, preferably through an open process of family discussion and respectful communication. If your children get out of school at 3 pm and you don’t get home from work until 6 pm, who is responsible for making certain that your children are not only safe, but also are engaged in useful activities? Where are they when they go out with friends? Are there adults around who are in charge?
4. Know your children’s friends and their families. Friends have a strong influence on each other, so help your children and teenagers become friends with kids whose families share your values.
5. Discourage early, frequent, and steady dating.Group activities among young people are fine and often fun, but allowing teens to begin one-on-one dating much before age 16 can lead to trouble.
I SAY: They need a comfortable communication platform
Fatuma Ndangiza, Deputy CEO of Rwanda Governance Board (RGB)
Sensitisation and awareness on reproductive health is the key. Teachers should make the initiative to mentor and guide their students and enlighten them on adolescence. Parents should create a comfortable communication platform, where their daughters can freely share what they are going through. This open conversation will help a girl avoid pregnancy. The media is also needed, mainly through educative programmes, not forgetting forming school clubs that aim at enlightening members on the benefits of abstinence.
Enlighten them on the benefits of abstinence
Monica Mabeyi, sales person
Society should take the initiative to introduce campaigns regarding teenage pregnancy awareness; alerting girls to take charge of their lives and fight for a better future. I believe such inspiration and motivation would inspire girls to fight not only pregnancy, but anything else that can rob them of their innocence.
Talk to them about birth control
Valeri Mucyeshimana, student
Teenagers are not easy to control, or restrict from having sex, most especially when they have made up their minds to do it. So in my opinion, the ultimate solution is to enlighten them on birth control methods and teach them how to use them effectively. This not only provides safety for their lives, but it is the best option for when they go astray.
They need effective guidance
Patricia Uwase, student
Effective sensitisation on the causes, dangers and ways to avoid pregnancy is the best way forward. Some teenagers engage in activities that put them at risk of engaging in sexual relations. So the effective solution is to teach them how to deal with the situation. Equip them with first-hand information and knowledge.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba