Mercy M died at the age of 14 from severe infection due tounsafe abortion. Although she attempted to obtain emergency contraceptives toavoid that pregnancy, Mercy was not given the morning-after pills becauseRwandan laws say that teenagers need permission from their parents or must beaccompanied by their guardians to access reproductive health services.
Mercy is just one case in an epidemic of teenage pregnanciessweeping Rwanda. Recent data show that teenage pregnancies in the country haveincreased by 200% in the last ten years. In the last four years, 78,000 teenagebirths were reported in Rwanda.
In the midst of thecontinuing “culture of silence” around teen pregnancies, the reality is thatthere’s something that could immediately have a dramatic impact on teenpregnancies: Change the law so that girls under 18 years of age do not have toinvolve their parents to access contraceptives.
In Rwanda, teenagepregnancies are among top leading factors to unsafe abortions and pretermbirths. And all these factors contribute to the increase rates of unnecessarydeaths among those teen mothers and their newborns.
In 2017, the Rwandan Ministry of Education reported thatearly pregnancies in high schools have contributed to 50% of school dropoutsamong girls under age 18. The report also shows that many of those teenagemothers become sex workers, their hospital bills are unpaid and a number oftheir children are found on the street. Consequently, the government of Rwandaspends 6.4 billion Rwandan Francs to care for children living on the street.
Andre Ndayambaje, a memberof theRwandaAssociation of Midwives and the health services coordinatorat the University for Global Health Equity writes: “We as parents, as healthprofessionals, as educators, as policy makers, as community opinion leaders, aschurch leaders, and teenagers; we call for the government to make an urgentchoice and action about the collective future of our teenagers, the newgeneration and hope of our nation. With our new Minister of Health now inplace, this is a great opportunity to prioritize ending the epidemic of earlypregnancies by providing safe and comfortable spaces for teenagers andadolescents to access sexual and reproductive health services and rights. Thisis not a fight against Rwandan culture and social norms, it’s a fight for thefuture of our nation, and to save the lives of our mothers and children.”
SOURCE: NewTimes Rwanda, by Andre Ndayambaje, 12 March 2020