As a nation we have an impending problem. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the population of Rwanda is projected to explode to 16.9 million people by 2032 up from 12.9 million.
With one of the highest population densities in Africa, Rwanda has over the years promoted the use of contraceptives in order to curb the population growth.
But the fight has not been consistent. Contraceptives are expensive, countrywide sensitisation drives are a rare occurrenceand condom booths are largely empty. But this does not mean that people have stopped having sex.
To make matters worse, teenagers and school-going children are still prevented from accessing contraceptives. Culturally, sex is still considered a taboo topic, so it is not strange for members of parliament and ministers to argue against the distribution of condoms and contraceptives in schools.
But this has not stopped teenagers from being sexually active. The teenage pregnancy rates in Rwanda increased from 6.1 percent in 2010 to 7.3 percent in 2015, according to the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey. Furthermore, 49.6 percent of teen mothers had their first pregnancy between the ages of 12 and 17.
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion indicates that teenage pregnancies increased by a whopping 200 percent in the last 10 years. In actual numbers, Rwanda recorded 78,000 teenage births in the last four years.
We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand over this. Cultural fears have to be replaced with evidence-based policies and realistic actions to increase the access and coverage of contraceptives to families and to teenagers.
Members of parliament must come up with time-limited legislation that will mobilise families and communities towards the important goal of ending unwanted pregnancies.
The legislation should clearly state that teenage mothers must be enabled to return to school and get educated.
Emergency contraceptives, sexual and reproductive health rights are still difficult to access in the country, but the legislation would ensure that the government has the mandate to provide them.
This will help to fight unintended pregnancies and the culture of silence that made it very difficult for young people to access the information they need in regards to sexual and reproductive health.
We are a poor nation. High rates of poverty make it hard for many people to access contraceptives. Therefore, the new legislation making such contraceptives free to poor households and teenagers from poor families would go a long way in overcoming this problem.
Lastly, with the highest percentage of women in parliament worldwide, teenagers in Rwanda should rightly feel that they have the necessary representation in decision- making chambers to push for legislation that serves their interests.