Give teenagers free access to contraceptives, say lobbyists

Tuesday December 3 2019

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Condoms being distributed to the youth. Ministry of Health indicates that the early pregnancies among teenagers rose to 19,832 last year from 17,337 recorded in 2017. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

LEONCE MUVUNYI
By LEONCE MUVUNYI
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Lobbyists are pushing the government to review the human reproductive health law that will grant teenagers unrestricted access to contraceptive services without their guardians’ consent.

Under the current law, teenagers aged 18 and above are permitted to get contraceptive services without their parents approval, whereas those aged below that age have to seek their parents' approval.

The lobbyists indicate that while discussing sex, among parents and children is widely considered a taboo yet current generation of teenagers are more exposed to various conversations and materials, as uninformed children end up engaging in unprotected sex.

“While parents are uncomfortable to discuss with their children about their sexual and reproductive health, it eventually becomes impossible for children to ask them for approval to get these services,” Alice Bumanzi, an adviser on sexual and reproductive health and rights at Plan International told Rwanda Today.

The lobbyists indicate that for a child to demand approval from their parent is uncomfortable and impossible to many of the children.

Rwanda Today has learnt that the draft law is still at the Prime Minister’s Office as the consultations among all stakeholders gets underway.

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Currently, Rwanda has adopted several contraceptive methods including injectables alongside pills, implant and male condom.

According to the recent Rwanda Demographic Health Survey (RDHS), at least 35.3 per cent of teenagers aged between 15 and 19 already use at least one of contraceptive.

However, Plan International figures put the unmet need for contraceptive services among adolescents and young women at 6.7 per cent.

In addition to putting their lives at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, Rwanda Today has learnt that early pregnancy among teenagers will at the centrestage during the consideration of the human reproductive health law revision.

Official figures put the number of teenagers that were impregnated in the first eight months of this year around 15,500. Ministry of Health indicates that the early pregnancies among teenagers rose to 19,832 last year from 17,337 recorded in 2017.

 However, the review of the law is likely to face strong cultural-related obstruction a sexual and reproductive health related topics among the young people is considered taboo.

“No parent can support or subject their children to use contraceptives under normal circumstances because children could think that they have given them a go ahead and to start engaging in sexual activities, families must take the leading role in the fight against teenage pregnancies,” said Esdras Ndayiragije, a resident of Gasabo district.

Dr Aflodis Kagaba, executive director of Health Development Initiative (HDI) noted that as children grow up, they start preferring privacy about matters to do with sex and sexuality, which make them requesting parental approval for contraceptives difficult.

“As children become teenagers, they start preferring their privacy about things to do with sex and sexuality to the extent that even if they have infected with sexual diseases, coming out and seek their parents’ company to hospital becomes a problem,” Mr Kagaba told Rwanda Today.

Medical experts said while most teenagers who get pregnant experience long-term adverse educational, social and economic consequences, it is better to provide them with the services.

“By denying adolescents access to contraception services, we are only denying what we all know very well that actually, these youth engage in risky sexual behaviour, which many studies have shown that girls start having sex as early as 13 or 14 years,” said one of the medical expert.

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