Most teenagers don’t plan to get pregnant, but many do. Like in any part of the world, teenagers in Rwanda are faced with the same confusion that comes with the stress of making babies.
Despite the fact that the teen birth rate is climbing, there are still thousands of teen pregnancies that occur around the country.
Most of these pregnancies are unplanned for and have resulted into the birthing of more risky problems in the lives of child mothers which include deadly abortions.
The biggest risk so far for teen mothers who decide to keep their pregnancies is delayed prenatal care or worse, no care at all.
According to ‘The State of the World’s Children’, a 160- page report released by UNICEF, ‘each year 70,000 females between the ages on 15-19 die during childbirth, a rate that is five times higher than that for women in their 20s.’
This implies that teen pregnancy is a major area of concern in developed countries but the problem is even harsh in developing nations where teen pregnancies have become a death sentence.
In Africa, the continent with the most critical level of maternal mortality, women have a 1 in 26 lifetime chance of dying during childbirth. UNICEF estimates that 80 percent or more of these deaths could be prevented with proper medical care.
Jeanne D’Arc Mujawamariya, the Minister of Gender and Family promotion (MIGEPROF) said that child mothers are mostly affected by the lack of proper prenatal care.
“This lack of prenatal care is a result of these teenagers’ fear of telling their parents and others about the pregnancy,” Mujawamariya said.
This problem is deep rooted in the ancient Rwandan culture where girls found pregnant were drowned in river Nyabarongo. In Rwanda, it was taboo to conceive before marriage and this has been imprinted in the minds of many people. However, MIGEPROF’s minister believes it’s time to turn the tables.
“It’s time to help our daughters and sisters to understand their bodies. When they do so, they will prevent early pregnancies from happening since they will understand the consequences of their decisions,” she said.
She also cited the major role that parent’s play when it comes to handling teen pregnancies.
“It’s unfortunate that many of these girls are rejected and thrown out of their homes. But rather than ridiculing and rejecting their daughters, parents should own up and help them go through this period of time,” she said.
Experts say that if a mother is under the age of 18, her infant’s risk of dying in its first year of life is 60 percent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19. John Bosco Mutigima, the founder of Under Age Christian Mission, an organization that helps over 75 child mothers living in Gahanga and Ndera said that most of the child mothers are adolescents who are susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation.
“These young are often forced to drop out of school, and forced into unhappy marriages. Even when they give birth, they have few work opportunities and little chance to influence their own lives,” Mutigima said.
Additionally, Mutigima said the challenges are enormous especially when it comes to their health.
“Since the body of a teen is still growing she will need more nutritional support to meet both her needs and that of her baby, yet they are very poor and our resources are already over stretched,” he emphasized.
Amidst all these challenges, Mujawamariya said, child mothers are categorized under vulnerable citizens and are included in different programmes within MIGEPROF.
“If young girls are not in school, they are more vulnerable,” the minister said adding, “we encourage them to go back to school and parents need to understand that their education is the tool to development.”