Teenage pregnancy is an issue that has long been a concern for society with many people divided on the best way to reduce the increasing number of teen pregnancies.
A survey carried out last year in ten districts by CLADHO, the umbrella of human rights organizations in Rwanda, indicated that in 52 sectors, 818 teenage girls got pregnant before they reached 18 years within a period of just two years.
The 2014/15 Demographic and Health Survey also showed that teenage pregnancies in Rwanda increased from 6.1 per cent in 2010 to 7.3 per cent in 2015.
Society still frowns upon the idea of young people accessing family planning services but should availing contraceptives to teens be an option to mitigate teen pregnancy?
Bosco Murangira, the Director of Women Empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion is against availing contraceptives to teenagers arguing that since their age doesn’t allow engaging in sexual relations, providing them with family planning services would be in contravention of the law.
He therefore suggests other sustainable mechanisms like parents giving their children enough sex education.
“Even boys should be engaged in sexual reproductive health because if they are educated the issue will surely reduce,” he notes.
“Communities on the other hand should assume responsibility just like it was in the past. We should focus on such methods if we are to overcome such issues in society,” he adds.
Murangira emphasizes embarking on preventive methods but through positive parenting and community mobilization as the best way of fighting teen pregnancies.
Benon Kamuhabwa, the Deputy Headmaster of Nyagatare Parents Nursery and Primary School says availing teens with contraceptives would be condoning premarital sex which is the root cause of the increasing number of teenage pregnancies.
“Some can actually resort to worse behaviors like prostitution; they are young to be given such rights like accessing contraceptives. Even with the right information it’s hard for them to make informed decisions,” he points out.
Kamuhabwa has an exception for adolescents who are out of school saying that for them they can be allowed to access the services since they are in most cases well informed about sexual reproductive education.
“These kids may be sexually active but they are not yet mature, this is why I don’t support this idea,” Kamuhabwa adds.
For Valens Butare a father, adolescents accessing family planning services is a necessary evil arguing that if one weighs outcomes of both circumstances, not accessing the services could have a worse impact.
“The world is in a different state now and we as parents need to understand this, no parent would pride in having her teen daughter or son be sexually active at such a tender age but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he says.
Barbara Burabyo, a university student says she is against the idea of teens accessing contraceptives reasoning that campaigns on abstinence should lead the way.
“Of course I wouldn’t say I would be sure to have the child abstain till marriage seeing that these days it’s almost impossible, but we need to understand that pregnancy is not the only outcome of premarital sex, there are diseases too and I would rather deal with a daughter’s pregnancy but not her being HIV positive,” she says.
She therefore insists on strengthening fights that promote abstinence and calling onto parents to play their part by providing a safe environment for the kids.
Morality vs safety?
Alexandre Babwirayumva, a local leader argues that though society is evolving, parents and other stakeholders should stick to raising children with moral values.
Promoting access of family planning services is a way of conveying a message to the youth that it is okay to engage in sexual activity when they are not married, he notes.
“We will be fighting one problem but opening doors to another one, let’s handle societal issues but not neglecting our moral values as Rwandans,” the local leader suggests.
Esee Maniribuka the headmaster of Mbathi Secondary School in Kamonyi District says considering the weight of the problem, exploring other alternatives could be the best option now.
He says that though a number of people could be against the idea of availing contraceptives to teens, at this point in time this could just be one of the best solutions to combat teen pregnancies.
“We can educate young people about the dangers of early sexual relations; however it is still upon them to make the decision, making all possible options available for them should be the way to go,” Maniribuka suggests.
He recognizes the possibility of negative fallouts attached to this however he is quick to point out that the consequences of teen pregnancies is far much worse than them.
“Young people accessing contraceptives can be a cause of concern because it may indeed have an impact but children having other children has far worse effects.”
Josianne Uwamariya, a mother of two teenage daughters, supports Maniribuka’s view saying that society needs to adjust with certain circumstances because there is no need to stick to one method if it is not yielding the desired results.
“Times have changed and young people are far more exposed to a whole lot of things, this is a fact we all know. Every parent would wish to have their child abstain till they are fully grown up but this is not always the case, we need to equip our children with means that work, means that ensure a safe future,” she says.