Early this week, lawmakers rejected a controversial Bill that sought to legalise use of contraceptives by 15-year-olds.
The Bill and its rejection divided opinion, eliciting heated debates on social media and in households across the country.
A cross section of civil society organisations were disappointed that the Bill was not supported by Members of Parliament, yet among the country’s clerical circles, it evoked disgust that even such a Bill can be conceived.
Whichever Lense uses, the Bill tabling in parliament and its subsequent rejection was a watershed moment for the country’s sexual reproductive health journey.
But it was also a mirror of where we are as a country, in light of the collective failures of the society and family unit, especially when it comes to raising children.
The Members of Parliament threw out the Bill on grounds that it contravenes with the cultural and religious values of the country.
But also, that it would look like a silent endorsement to young girls to indulge in sexual activities prematurely, a position that could also have been influenced by President Paul Kagame, who voiced the same opinion in 2020. But truth be told, our teenagers are sexually active, and they have the surging teenage pregnancy numbers to prove it.
Data from the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion indicates that cases of teenage pregnancies in the country rose from 19,701 in 2020 to 23,000 in 2021, up from 17,500 in 2018. That is 23,000 children born to other children in one year, with no source of income, no savings and no knowledge on how to raise a child.
The Bill that was backed by the five MPs was premised on the urgent need to tackle the surging problem of teenage pregnancies in the country.
That since the family and other organs of the country and society have failed to deal with the issue, and teenagers are continuing to engage in sexual activities and getting pregnant, let them at least have unmitigated access to contraceptives.
All these teenage pregnancies are defilement cases going by the law, and studies have revealed that some of them are impregnated by older relatives, others are lured by handouts from local businessmen, while many are raped.
But the role of the man behind these pregnancies is often silent across the entire spectrum. There has been a lux in the prosecution and punishment of men behind these defilement cases, and this needs to be tightened from a legal standpoint.
For example, the sexual offenses law leaves a lot of burden on the victim of rape the burden of proof. A rape victim has to present a doctors tests taken on the same day, as evidence to be used in court to prove that she was raped, ignoring the circumstantial and psychological difficulties the victim faces in the aftermath, which often incapacitates her from gathering and keeping such evidence.