An intense debate ensued in Rwanda recently on social media on whether contraceptives should be made available to adolescents without necessarily requiring parental consent.
The debate was sparked by a social media post by one of the country’s cabinet ministers in which he asked if it was high time that people discussed contraception as an alternative solution to the rampant teenage pregnancy rate in the country.
While the law on relating to Human Reproductive Health in Rwanda grants every person the right to medical services and information related to human reproductive health, its Article 7 stipulates that every person who has attained the majority age has the right to decide in relation to human reproductive health issues.
The majority age in Rwanda being 18 years, anyone younger needs parental consent to access those services. However, tens of thousands of adolescents give birth in Rwanda every year, a challenge the country has grappled with for years.
Despite the tremendous progress made in terms of helping adolescents and youth to access knowledge, skills and services needed for a healthy and productive life, teenage pregnancies are among the pressing issues faced by adolescent girls in Rwanda.
This comes with many effects, including the fact that a teenage mother is twice as likely to die than a mother aged 20 and above. Girls aged 15 to 19 years face a higher risk of maternal death during pregnancy or childbirth.
The World Health Organisation reported in 2022 that complications during pregnancy and childbirth remain leading causes of death in teens globally and in the continent.
This is not all, because many teenage mothers drop out of school, they are chased away from home by their parents, and other factors that lead them into chronic poverty. Their children are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and other preventable conditions and diseases.
Numbers don’t lie, and from what they show, there is not a single solution that will solve the teenage pregnancy crisis. We must think outside the box. Perhaps it is high time we discussed other alternative solutions and combine them with what we already have in force to arrest this monster that is affecting our children.
Let us not out rightly dismiss such ideas like we saw on social media. Let us critically and objectively dissect them with view to find a solution. We can start by looking at countries where such practices have been embraced and take lessons and where necessary tailor them to our own context.
In 2022, the parliament rejected the bill that was set to avail contraception services to adolescents aged at least 15, with main considerations being culture and faith. But the idea to avail reproductive health services to adolescents should be considered before it is too late. Religion and culture will not save teenage girls from the daunting effects of an unwanted pregnancy.