The number of teenage pregnancies in various parts of the country shows how government and parents need to put in more efforts to contain the issue which leads many young girls to drop out of school.
Some 17,000 young girls, most of them under age got pregnant in 2016, according to figures from Imbuto Foundation.
While some blame parents for not doing enough to protect their children, others blame it on ignorance about reproductive health services.
Potien Ugirumurera, the director of studies at G.S Kagugu in Gasabo District, attributes unwanted pregnancies among young girls to lack of proper parental guidance.
“At school, children learn about reproductive health, whether in classes or in different clubs, but at home parents don’t have time to chat with their children to help them to know how to behave in the face of sexual temptations,” said Ugirumurera.
Most of the girls meet their boyfriends outside school because parents are always absent and busy, and they rarely talk to them about reproductive health, he said.
“We have cases where we (schools) call parents to talk about the strange behaviour of their children and they don’t come. Parents should try to play their role in their children’s education,” said Ugirumurera.
Helene Kampayana, a parent from Rugerero Sector in Rubavu District, said sometimes her teenagers ask uncomfortable questions to which she finds it hard to get the right responses.
“I have two sons and a daughter who are in secondary school. They often ask tough questions and I feel ashamed, or fail to answer. For example, one day my daughter asked me what follows after a girl develops breasts,” said Kampayana.
She said some parents don’t have the right information to share with their children in terms of reproductive health, but creating an atmosphere of trust is important.
“When children trust and take you as their friend, they don’t fear to share their secrets with you, and you easily find a way to help,” said Kampayana.
Dr Aphlodis Kagaba, the Director of Health Development Initiative, concurs that the rise in cases of unwanted pregnancies among young girls is due to the lack of adequate knowledge about reproductive health yet children engage in unprotected sex at a tender age.
Every sexually active woman, whether married or not, should have enough knowledge of family planning and other reproductive health information to avoid unwanted pregnancies, said Dr Kagaba.
Mobile reproductive health service
“When a girl has full knowledge she cannot get unwanted pregnancy. For example, if she can’t abstain from sex she can use contraceptives or some other ways of avoiding pregnancy before or after sexual intercourse. Condoms are in place, different contraceptive methods and morning after pill are also available,” said Kagaba.
The problem is that many parents and Rwandan society in general are against the use of contraceptives among unmarried girls even when the reality suggests otherwise, he said.
“There are some cases where young girls go to health centres to search for information on contraceptives and nurses start praying for them and giving them moral lessons so that they abandon the idea. This is not right. They should be attended to as any other woman,” said Kagaba.
Sandrine Umutoni, the Managing Director of Imbuto Foundation, said making reproductive health information accessible to the youth is critical in ending unwanted pregnancies among teenagers.
Imbuto Foundation, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and that of Gender and Family Promotion, have launched mobile reproductive health services in order to help the youth between 16-24 years access all necessary information, for free.
Umutoni said the first phase of registration for mobile reproductive health services was conducted from June to September.
Now more than 100, 000 subscribers between 16-24 years old are receiving free messages containing information on reproductive and sexual information.
The second phase of registration will be opened in the upcoming months.
“We want to build a country in which all people will feel comfortable to live. We want to empower them with information from the very tender age to adulthood,” she said.
The short messages include information on body changes during teenage years, reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases among others.
Patrick Ndimubanzi, the Minister of State in charge of Public Health and Primary Health Care, said at some health centres there are rooms where young people can meet with and ask for information from specialised personnel, in order to facilitate them to take the right decisions concerning reproductive health.
“The programme is going to be extended to all health centres and hospitals in the country,” he said.
According to Kagaba, parents should find time to chat with their children about sexual reproductive health because when they don’t do it children take regrettable decisions out of ignorance.
“Parents are key players in reducing unwanted pregnancies. They are the ones to show children all the available options starting with integrity, condoms and other contraceptives. If not, children will continue to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse and get pregnant,” said Kagaba
Rose Rwabuhihi, the chief Gender Monitor at Gender Monitoring Office, said more efforts are needed to hold responsible men who impregnate young girls and then abandon them.
“Men are impregnating young girls and abandoning them without help. Communities still cover up for those criminals. Much effort is needed to end these crimes and hold such adults responsible, they should raise their children,” she said.
ACP Theos Badege, the Police spokesperson, said a girl less than 18 years old never consents to sexual intercourse. When it happens, its defilement and it’s punished under the penal code, he said.
He said at Isange One Stop Centre, children and other sexually abused adults receive quick services.
Isange One Stop Centre offers treatments, judicial support, evidence collection to support the judicial process against the culprit, and psycho-socio services, to ensure that victims are fully rehabilitated and justice is served.
Child defilement attracts life imprisonment upon conviction.
At a recent Gender Accountability Day in Rulindo District, civil registration, campaigns against unwanted pregnancies among young girls and fighting against domestic violence were a dominant feature.
Jacky Mukamusoni, 19, from Tumba Sector in Rulindo, was one of the teenage mothers who came alone to register a baby at the event.
“His father is far away. He lives in Rwamagana and only comes once in a while to check on his child,” said Mukamusoni.
She said she was in Senior Three at G.S Nyirabirori in Rulindo when she ‘‘fell in love’’ with a boy who later impregnated her.
She lives with her parents and siblings but they always quarrel because of her predicament, she said.
“My parents and siblings don’t like me anymore, we are always quarrelling. They say I disappointed them after all efforts they made to help me to go to school,” said Mukamusoni, with tears in her eyes. Her baby is one year old.
She said she would like to return to school but she can’t manage a babysitter to help with the child.