The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Is Sex Education the Solution to Teenage Pregnancies in Schools?

With one single school reporting over 25 pregnancy cases, education experts say there is urgent need to revive sex education in schools. The recent pregnancy scandal demonstrates how important it is to discuss abstinence and safe sex practices with teens both at school and home, writes Maria Kaitesi

TWENTY TWO - YEAR-OLD Uwase started being sexually active at the age of 14. By the time she turned 16, she was having unsafe sex and got pregnant and contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Besides being rejected by family and friends, she had to drop out of school for a year. She had multiple sexual partners. Until this day, she doesn't know the father of her child and is raising her daughter single-handedly.

"If I had a way of pumping sense in every student's head, I would do it to convince them to keep away from sex until the right time. The ugly outcomes haunt your life and you regret why you weren't patient. The situation made me hate my parents for having not talked to me about these issues earlier when I was growing up," Uwase regrets.

Uwase is just one of the many teenage girls that have gone thorough this experience which is threatening the future of the girl child and education in general.

Education experts say the problem is threatening to overturn the gains of the girl child education. Recently the head teacher of Groupe Scolairie (GS) Nsinda in Rwamagana district was suspended following reports that 26 students were found to be pregnant. The minors were either found to be pregnant or recently gave birth while at school.

Call for sex education

Experts say sex education is the remedy to the current trend of increased teenage pregnancies. Teen pregnancy is on the rise in schools across the country. Experts have linked this trend to lack of sex education among the teens. With one single school reporting over 25 pregnancy cases, education experts say there is urgent need to revive sex education in schools. The recent pregnancy scandal demonstrates how important it is to discuss abstinence and safe sex practices with teens both at school and home. Education experts warn that amidst situations where students in both primary and secondary schools are sexually active and most ending up pregnant-it's an indicator of a disaster in waiting.

For many, the solution is sex education to be incorporated in the school curriculum. Others argue for condom accessibility in schools since students are already sexually active- to protect them from HIV/AIDS and early pregnancies.

According to Uwase, parents have the first responsibility in ensuring that their children are informed and prepared for the sexual challenges ahead starting with the changes in their bodies.

Another victim, Providance 27, also started being sexually active while in high school, she lost concentration in her studies and her grades were always dropping.

She was a bit ignorant on the consequences of premarital sex because she never had a chance to have a person talk to her about such issues.

She would go with every guy who showed interest as long he could get her a fancy phone and pocket money; she had abortion after abortion, all from quack doctors and while in her senior five, one of the abortions went totally wrong and had her uterus removed.

Providance was lucky enough to go back to school and complete her studies although she never told her family about the abortions. It's one of those ugly secrets she has decided to live with and never disclose to her family.

She's had over seven potential suitors with everything a woman would wish to have in a husband, who have showed interest in walking her down the aisle but every time she remembers she can't have babies, she quits the relationship. Her parents keep wondering why their daughter is afraid of marriage and she alone knows her hideous secret.

There are girls who are going through such and worse experiences due to the fact that they are sexually active and it all goes back to how and who should give sex education to the adolescents. How much should they be told? What precaution measures should they take once they lose self control to sexual advances?

Edith Birungi, a teacher at Kigali Christian School Kibagabaga says that part of the solution in inculcating sex education in Rwanda's school Curriculum.

This way, she says, students will be equipped with the right information about sex, changes in their bodies and how to address them and go through the adolescence phase safely.

"We are dealing with adolescents who are faced with many challenging situations that might lead them into early sex, unwanted pregnancies, abortion and all the associated consequences. We shouldn't shy away anymore from discussing these issues with them and prepare them for a bright future," she added.

We can't hide from the reality that some students are sexually active and engaging in unsafe sex. However, giving them easy accessibility to condoms will only put them in a trap and compromising situation compelling them to engage further in sexual activity thinking that they are safe, a teacher from one of the uptown schools observed.

Another teacher from a Kigali-based secondary school who spoke on condition of anonymity however disagreed and said, "We have to face reality; the adolescents we are teaching know a lot more than many adults. Many are sexually active and can't be controlled. Instead of letting them carry out unsafe abortions after, early pregnancies and exposing them to HIV/AIDS, give them the option of condoms because some will keep on having unsafe sex even if you make sex education a subject in schools. Some students are simply irredeemable, undisciplined and won't listen to sex education talk."

Students speak out

Leslie Girihirwe, a senior two student of Mary Hill School Nyagatare says that many students are ignorant about issues to do with sex education so they mess up mainly because of ignorance.

"This ignorance is because some of our parents and teachers shy away from discussing such issues with us. They should be more open and not wait for a student to mess up then they remember to talk. They should teach us these things at school so we can get information from the right people otherwise we shall believe what we learn from TV some of which might not be true," she said.

Girihirwe says that her parents have at least taken the initiative to discuss these issues with her and she is confident that no boy or man can fool her into sex since she's well equipped with knowledge on the dire consequences of being sexually active at an early age, before marriage and also early pregnancies.

Patricia Mutoni, a senior four student at the Rwamagana Lutheran School says that teachers should intensify their role to curb this challenge by discussing such issues in schools.

She advises that clubs be set up in schools where students can discuss such issues and learn more about sex education. Through these clubs, the schools can bring speakers from outside who have testimonies to share their experiences so the students can be inspired to make the right decisions as well.

"The youth in my age group would listen more to that young working lady or University student who has lived her life right and made the right decision than an old woman who they think doesn't know what they go through. The stage we are looking forward to is joining University and then be that young successful working lady therefore if we got some with inspirational stories to share, we would listen to them more and take their advice much more seriously than when it's from a teacher or parent," she added.

Mutoni says that the young girls want to listen to people who can easily relate to their situation although she added that parents too have a role to play and should be role models and bring up children in disciplined manner.

Some parents give their children too much freedom such as letting them move late in the night without knowing where they are, allowing them to access phones at an early age so they'll be looking for someone to call them and buy them airtime as well thus increasing chances of getting sexually active while in school, she observed.

WAY FORWARD

Parents and their role

Natalia Rurangwa, 54, a resident of Gatsata and a mother of three, says that parents have a big role to play but most of them are so busy engrossed in their jobs, leaving the job of raising their children to house maids.

According to her, if parents train a child how they should live their lives and find time to make them friends to the point where children can easily confide in them, then it will become hard the children to stray.

Modeste Kamili in his 60's and a father to seven girls says that children have been exposed to too much freedom which is leading to early sex and pregnancies.

"We have accepted our daughters to own phones, treat their hair and paint their nails. Parents no longer give curfews to children and it's no longer a surprise to find a 15-year-old girl moving with a boy late in the night. If a 30-year- old man meets a young girl all looking grown up make up and long treated hair, they can easily mistake her for a 22-year- old," he observed.

To Kamili, the parenting role has been totally abandoned, which is why children are straying as there's nothing much teachers can do if parents aren't playing their role.

He warns that condoms in schools will only worsen the situation and encourage teens to engage in sex but rather educate them about sex. He advises that parents rather educate them about sext.

Youth Council speaks out

Alphonse Nkuranga, the executive secretary of National Youth Council, says the issue of pregnancies in schools is a concern the council is dealing with.

"The issue of pregnancies in schools is known. We are planning a youth campaign to mobilise students at district level. We will meet them at their respective schools and discuss the effects of teenage pregnancies," says Nkuranga.

The campaign will not only focus on pregnancies but also sexual activities leading to pregnancy, fight against drug abuse and how the youth should develop while developing the country as well.

Nkuranga adds that other ministries such as the Ministry of Health and that of education will be participating in the campaign.

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