EDITORIAL: Child pregnancies a national concern that needs action, not silence

Friday February 6 2015


Teenage pregnancies is a phenomenon many countries are facing and Rwanda is not an exception. In Rwanda, it is a topic most often not discussed in public.

But as it is elsewhere, teenage girls in Rwanda are finding themselves in a dilemma of changes in their bodies — including early sexual contact, which may result in unplanned pregnancies. Girls in the rural areas are however more exposed to this danger than their urban compatriots.

Teenage pregnancies are often associated with social issues, including lower educational levels, higher rates of poverty and other poorer life outcomes in children of teenage mothers.

Child pregnancies in developing countries may also come with consequences such as combining with malnutrition and poor healthcare to cause medical problems for mother and child, yet they can be prevented through comprehensive sex education and access to birth control.

But while the government has made huge progress in reproductive health, the abstinence-only approach does not appear to be working. It is therefore important that it restrategises reproductive health education and also considers the increasing calls for improved access to contraception, especially in secondary schools where many students have reached puberty.

Rwanda is a conservative society where the subject of sex remains taboo, especially between parents and their children, yet this is the time a parent-to-child talk about sex should be embraced.

Also, unlike in the past, with the advances in technology and access to the Internet and television, children are more likely to learn about and practice sex at an early age.

It is important that parents interact with their children on the subject of sex while the government ensures reproductive health programmes reach rural areas as in towns.

Several studies which have been done to examine the socioeconomic, medical and psychological impact of pregnancy and parenthood in teens show that these can be prevented and their effects reduced tremendously.

They show that teenage parents who rely on family and community support, social services and child-care support are more likely to continue their education and get higher-paying jobs as they progress with studies.

In Rwanda, teenage pregnancies are usually outside marriage and carry a social stigma in society, according to a study done by a local non-governmental organisation.

Factors such as culture, poverty and the conservative nature of the society do not allow young girls who get pregnant to go back to normal life after giving birth. They end up dropping out of school, leaving home to venture into towns in search of work.

Worse, the juvenile mothers often end up in prostitution and even more abuse.

It is high time Rwandans approached this issue with a culture of openness and transparency to avoid more young girls getting pregnant and becoming social outcasts.