Rwanda: Nearly Half of All Pregnancies Are Unintended – Report

Sarah Umutoniwase, who was born to a 16-year-old girl, found herself a mother too at that same age. Her mother had died when she was only two, and was taken in by a foster family.

Although she had a scholarship, Umutoniwase would struggle to buy other school needs since she was going to a boarding school.

However, when she was in her third year of secondary school, there was a man who was providing that for her. He lived just next door. They ended up falling in love, as she says, but she had not been educated on safe sex practicing methods or any other reproductive health service that was available.

She got pregnant and despite her friends’ attempt to convince her to have an abortion, she kept the child due to her Christian values.

The report is titled ‘Seeing the Unseen the case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy.’ 2

When she was due, Umutoniwase had a C-Section and there she was, a 16-year-old mother to a beautiful baby she didn’t know how to raise, or have the means to raise her at her age.

Her foster family had made peace with that fact, and they helped her with the child until she finished school.

She was selling maize every day after classes to buy milk for the child until she graduated high school.

Now, she is a reproductive health rights champion in her district, Rwamagana, where she shares her testimony with young people to learn from it.

“I am among the people who gave birth when they were still young but chose not to let sadness get to me,” Umutoniwase said.

She is now 30, and her child is attending high school. She also got married and had other children thereafter.

Delegates follow the presentation of the 2022 annual State of World Population Report in Kigali on May 25. Courtesy

Umutoniwase narrated her story on Wednesday, May 25, as United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other stakeholders launched in Rwanda, the 2022 annual State of World Population (SWP) Report titled ‘Seeing the Unseen: the case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy.’

The report portrays that an estimated 121 million pregnancies per year are unintended, and that it is an ‘unseen’ crisis because it is so common. “Nearly everyone knows someone who has experienced an unintended pregnancy” the report reads.

It also shows that women are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy when they have fewer choices and less power.

An unintended pregnancy is defined as a pregnancy that occurs to a woman who was not planning to have any (more) children, or that was mistimed, in that it occurred earlier than desired.

The report applied the definition independent of the outcome of the pregnancy (whether abortion, miscarriage or unplanned birth).

It was also revealed that 23 per cent of women report they are unable to say no to sex, and that only 57 per cent of women are able to make their own decisions over their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Speaking at the launch, UNFPA Representative, Kwabena Asante-Ntiamoah said that no country is spared the crisis, because unintended pregnancies take place in disturbing numbers in Rwanda.

Officials joined the United Nations Population Fund and stakeholders to launch the 2022 annual State of World Population Report in Kigali on May 25. Courtesy

He referred to the Rwanda Demographic Health Survey (2019/2020) which showed that of all births between 2015 and 2020, 61 percent were wanted at the time of conception, 27 percent were mistimed, and 12 percent were unwanted.

“Many people will say this is not an urgency. They will say this has always been the case. Why are we alarmed? Why care now? The answer is that it has always been a crisis, but it has been brought to the forefront and characterised as “a women’s concern” or “a private matter,” Kwabena said.

He added that UNFPA is calling on the world to recognise that unintended pregnancy is not only a woman’s concern but a health issue, a human rights issue, a humanitarian issue, and a development issue. “It is a global crisis with global costs,” Kwabena noted.

He further announced that Rwanda’s theme this year is “Addressing Teenage Pregnancy: The call for Action”.

“Let us not forget to stand up for the adolescent girl who, through ignorance about her body or lack of choice – or both – is condemned to a life of poverty when unintended pregnancy ends her education; her lifeline to a brighter future,” Kwabena added.

While the 2019-2020 Demographic and Health Survey portrayed that the percentage of teenagers who have given birth or are pregnant with their first child has declined from 7 to 5 percent, more than 100,000 teenagers have given birth since 2017.

Minister for Health Dr Daniel Ngamije during the official launch the 2022 annual State of World Population Report dubbed ‘Seeing the Unseen the case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy. Courtesy

The SWP says that unintended pregnancy is linked to gender inequality, lower socioeconomic development, and higher maternal death rates, and that poverty, lower levels of education and employment, and exposure to violence and coercion reinforce the high rates.

After the launch, different stakeholders including the Ministry of health, different embassies and NGOs pledged to help girls “carry books instead of babies,” so that no girl has to go through what Umutoniwase and hundreds of thousands of other teenagers have gone through.

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