Rwanda's rapid population growth, fuelled by high fertility rates is currently undermining efforts by the government to reduce poverty across the country.
This is largely attributed to limited access to family planning and to modern methods of contraception. The situation is worsened by a rise in teenage pregnancies.
These are some of the issues that were raised recently by the Standing Senatorial Committee in charge of Social Affairs, Human Rights and Petitions which is assessing the government’s family planning programme.
According to the National Institute of Statistics (NISR), the loopholes, if not effectively addressed, risk reversing the gains made in reducing fertility rates as more women prefer to have more than four children.
Yet high fertility rates could seriously undermine the country’s overall target of becoming a high-income country by 2050.
The country’s population is estimated at 12.5 million with the fertility rate at 4.2 children per woman as reflected in the 2014/2015 Demographic Health Survey.
NISR officials warn that if population growth continues at the current trend, the population will triple in 30 years. This would hamper the goal of increasing per capita income from $700 to at least $12,000.
Yusuf Murangwa, NISR director-general said there was a need to slow the fertility rate to at least 2.3 children per woman by 2035, and this was only possible through concerted efforts to decentralise family planning services to make them more effective.
“The population is set to double, but we can ensure that citizens are productive and empowered to contribute to growth. There is a need for policy that emphasises reducing current fertility rates as well as creating a healthy workforce,” he said.
Mr Murangwa was addressing the senatorial committee. The senators raised concern about an inability to meet the demand for modern methods of contraception and a worrying trend of teen pregnancies.
Senator Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, who is also the former Health Minister, said there haven’t been any adjustments in the way family planning programmes are carried out such that attaining the goal of being a high-income country by 2050 could be difficult.
“The only change that took place, it seems, is the extension of the target from 2020 to 2050,” he said.
While figures show the demand for modern methods of contraception stood at 72 per cent, the uptake stood at only 53 per cent as another 19 per cent could not access the services.
Lack of access to family planning methods is higher in rural areas compared with urban areas, according to NISR statistics. However, little is said about the real cause of this apart from alleged weaknesses in the programmes.
The country also grapples with rising cases of teen pregnancies at seven per cent, while 5.8 per cent still rely on “ineffective” traditional family planning methods.
More than 17,000 girls aged 16-19 years were pregnant in 2016 alone, according to a Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion report. The problem was cited as having contributed to the high number of school dropouts in most districts.
Activists attribute the trend to gaps in sexual and reproductive health education and religious organisations being reluctant to promote family planning campaigns. Also, family planning services are still not easily accessible to women who are not married, as well as their high cost.
Data from NISR shows that besides challenges in accessing family planning methods, making sure that those who access the services are satisfied was also problematic.
Mr Murangwa called for integrated programmes that focus on ensuring the family planning methods meet the expectations of the users.
Rwanda grapples with one of the highest population densities in the continent, with a high number being the youth.
Estimates suggest that over 300,000 children are born annually. Some legislators voiced concern about the current population, saying it was worrying and there was a need for interventions if the country is to avert a potential crisis in the future.