Rising numbers of early childhood pregnancies in rural areas of Rwanda have parents and local leaders are worried that this may increase the self-sustenance burden the household’s bear.
A mother in Buruhikiro Sector of Nyamagabe District, Southern Province, said there is a trend of young women getting pregnant and abandoning their infants.
“You can imagine how a poor woman like me has to raise my daughter’s three children, whom she bore and abandoned here,” Anna Marie Mukankusi lamented. “She doesn’t want to get married and raise her kids with her husband and instead indulges in alcohol and hanging out with different men.”
Some mothers who spoke to Rwanda Today attributed the increasing teenage pregnancies in rural areas to lack of awareness on the risk involved, a failure to uphold family values and moral decadence.
“Young women no longer listen to their mothers,” one woman who said she is a mother said. “They think it is trendy to spend nights in bars and getting pregnant doesn’t scare them anymore because they dump the kids at their mother’s and go away.”
Philbert Mugisha, the mayor of Nyamagabe, said the district has tried to tackle the issue by setting up youth centres where teenagers can access education on reproductive health.
Experts in early childhood development say teenage pregnancies remain a serious predicament despite various measures that are being taken to address the problem.
For example, Early Childhood Development and Family Centre (ECDFC) and youth education centres have been established and, based on Rwanda’s Integrated Child Rights Policy (ICRP) with its corresponding Child Care Reform Strategy (CCSR), early child development is increasingly being put on the agenda for children’s rights.
A 2013 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, Motherhood in Childhood, indicates that every year in developing countries, 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth. The research shows that pregnancy and childbirth are now a leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries, with about 70,000 adolescents dying each year from pregnancy-related causes.
Although the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), says there are no statistics about the rate of teenage pregnancies in the country, it acknowledges that the issue is a big challenge.
“The government’s efforts in partnership with development partners have significantly reduced the problem. For instance, strengthening of co-curricular sexuality education activities and the number of youth-friendly centres and health facilities to deliver youth-friendly services,” said NISR director-general Yusuf Murangwa.
The latest Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Schools report says that 522 unwanted pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 18 were recorded last year in schools countrywide. The report, released by the Gender Monitoring Office last year, shows most of the cases as being in Karongi (58), Kayonza (53), Gatsibo (52) and Gasabo (50).
While the government says a child’s early development largely depends on the involvement of both parents, mothers in rural Rwanda blame the increase in early child pregnancies on moral decadence in the society.
Many leaders are also in agreement that early childhood pregnancies are caused by failure of parents’ responsibility, community values and an evolution in life whereby children are attracted to money due to poverty.
At the 12th Annual National Dialogue, Umushikirano 2014, the issue of safe guarding family values topped the country’s development agenda with a need to enact legislations and build institutions that protect the family, especially mother and child, as provided for in Article 27 of the Constitution.
President Paul Kagame said then that the role of each leader should be evident in coming up with specific measures to safeguard the integrity of Rwandans and improve their welfare.
The Health Development Initiative (HDI), an NGO that promotes family health and education, has so far set up a Sexual Health Reproductive Education (SHARE) programme in only 10 schools, all located in Kigali.
Sexual activity in schools
SHARE focuses on prevention of unsafe sex and avoiding infectious disease but HDI thinks that early childhood pregnancies should be better addressed by providing full clinical services and giving contraceptives in schools.
While the government suggests that most of the teens are sexually active at the age of 14 years, HDI argues that it is 12 and says that distributing contraceptives in schools can contribute a lot in preventing teen pregnancies.
“Our position is that there is a lot of sexual activity in schools and among teens but this should be done with safety,” said Telesphore Nambajimana, the programme manager at HDI. “Teenagers should get a comprehensive package in sexual and reproductive health services, including condoms.”
Ever since the government blocked a draft law that sought to have condoms distributed in schools and legalise abortion, there has been silence on the Bills.
Mr Nambajimana says debate on these aspects should continue since most of the pregnant children, especially from well-to-do families, resort to abortion while the rural ones choose to give birth because of the high cost and risks of abortion.
In schools, sex education is not given enough time and attention. Girls get most of the information on sexuality from their peers — who are also not well informed — and social media networks and television.
Theobald Mporanyi, a member of the parliamentary network in charge of reproductive health, says documenting the status of teenage pregnancies in the country, including knowledge, attitude, risk factors and possible ways to reduce it is necessary but there is no debate on either distributing condoms in school or legalising abortion.
“Distributing condoms and abortion is not a solution; we will not have solved anything,” said the Member of Parliament. “Instead, we should change our mentality, put emphasis on education and behavioural change.”
Mr Mporanyi agrees that early childhood pregnancies are a major challenge to the country.
The East African