The Rwandan government is revising a law that will see the age at which one can legally access family planning methods lowered from 18 to 15 years.
Most commonly, if not all over the world, anyone below the age of 18 is regarded as a minor. But a draft bill seen by The New Times seeks to modify the law establishing medical professional liability insurance. It gives teenagers aged 15 and above the right to seek family planning methods without any restrictions.
“Every person having attained the age of fifteen (15) years has the right to decide for oneself in relation to human reproductive health. The consent of the parent or guardian will be only required for incapables persons,” the bill reads.
This development comes almost one year after Prime Minister Eduoard Ngirente openly admitted to members of the Senate that the government was cognizant of the limits that the current law puts on teenagers.
According to Ngirente, the number of teenage pregnancies in the country has been attributed to the restrictions the law places on teenagers. Figures from the Imbuto Foundation indicate that the country registered 17,000 teenage pregnancies in 2016.
Another survey between 2014/2015 by the Rwanda Demographic Health Survey states that seven percent of women become pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19, highlighting the importance of the new bill.
Furthermore, in a Youth Connect Africa Summit held in Kigali, several youth leaders spoke on some of the causes of the increasing teenage pregnancies. Major reasons for this include poverty to meet basic needs, barriers faced in accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services especially controlled access to contraceptives.
Ngirente also acknowledged that it did not make sense to ask teachers to educate young adults about reproductive health and safe sex methods when the methods are inaccessible.
“Yes young adults below 18 are required to go with their parents to access contraceptives yet these are the most vulnerable when it comes to unwanted pregnancies. I would like to tell you that we are changing that because we found it inconveniencing,” he added.
As valid as this law sounds, a negative angle to it is the side effects that it has on its users. Apart from hormonal imbalance, longer use comes with an even more adverse effect.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that the long term usage of birth control pills increases the chances of women to develop breast cancer. Taking birth control for more than five years may increase the risk of cervical cancer, the ACS added.
The longer people take such pills, the higher their risk. This means a 15-year-old who has access to contraceptives at such an early age is open to the risk of developing any of these illnesses in the long run.