25 November 2012

Rwanda: Inability to Plan a Family Is to Perpetrate Social Injustice


The State of World Population Report for 2012 came out a few days ago, under the theme, By Choice, Not by Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development.

At the outset, the report observes that the ability to decide on the number and spacing of one's children is taken for granted by many in the developed world and among elites in developing countries.

For the majority of people in developing countries, it says, especially the poorest ones, the power and means to determine the size of their families are scarce or inadequate.

Rwanda seems to back this trend and, along with Ethiopia and Malawi, has received some affirmation with the increase of modern methods of contraception.

Women in the reproductive age of between 15 to 49 years in Rwanda increased using modern contraception, from 10 per cent in 2005 to 45 per cent currently. Contraceptive use more than tripled in just five years, growing by seven per cent annually. The average growth for Africa is below 1.6 per cent annually (see commentary, Rwanda's optimism on fertility compelling, The New Times, November 1, 2012).

The State of World Population Report observes that family planning is now widely accepted as a foundation for a range of rights. It explains that a person's ability to plan the timing and size of their family closely determines the realisation of other rights.

The number and spacing of children can have an impact on the schooling prospects, income and well-being of women and girls, and also of men and boys, the report says.

"The right to family planning therefore permits the enjoyment of other rights, including the rights to health, education, and the achievement of a life with dignity."

The inability to determine when to have children and how large a family to have results from and further reinforces social injustice and a lack of freedom. This is the case the report seeks to make.

It also finds that family planning has proved to be one of the most cost-effective public health and sustainable development interventions.

A rights-based approach and access to reproductive health services, the report says, will be fundamental to achieving many of the priority goals emerging from the post-2015 sustainable development framework that will succeed the MDGs, which will conclude in 2015 (see commentary, What next after the Millennium Development Goals, The New Times, May 10, 2012).

As the report theme suggests, there is a clear continuum between family planning, human rights and development.

It quotes the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressing that the "increasing global embrace of human-rights-based approaches to development, based on the principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination, empowerment and the rule of law, offers hope that a more enlightened model of development is now emerging."

Rwanda seems to have taken in the lesson. Along with increased modern contraception use, there is a linked indicator brought out in the report pointing to the development dividend.

Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 in Rwanda give 43 births per 1,000 per year, the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. The average in the region is 120 births per 1,000.

Rwanda has done well, but still has some way to go with the significant proportion of its women and girls not on modern methods. There are also men and boys to relentlessly include in the reproductive health message, as the report urges of the world.

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