4 March 2017

East Africa: EALA Bill Seeks to Introduce Contraceptives for Children

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Bill and Melinda Gates 2017 annual letter

Kampala — A new East African Legislative Assembly Bill is seeking to introduce contraceptives for children in member states; days after the Ministry of Health disowned a policy proposing the same for children aged 10 to 19 years in Uganda.

Once passed into a law, the Bill dubbed the "EAC Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Bill 2017," will bind the East African Community member states to provide contraceptives and abortion, among others, to all EAC citizens, including children. The states include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

The Bill

According to a draft copy prepared by Dr Odette Nyiramilimo, a Rwandan representative at Eala, the law intends to prevent unwanted pregnancies, risky abortion and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/Aids and ensure quality sexual reproductive health care, education and all services for people in EAC.

"The partner states shall ensure that adolescents and young person's get access to relevant quality and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptives and condoms," reads Section 17(2) of the proposed Bill.

Part I (2) of the proposed Bill, describes an adolescent as any person aged between 10 and 19 years.

The proposed legislation also requires member states to design and implement sexual and reproductive public education.

It also indicates that every individual has a right to choose and consent to any method of birth control, including sterilisation.

Under Section 15 (1), the Bill seeks to legalise abortion, provided that a pregnancy endangers the woman's health and life.

"The partner states shall safeguard and give effect to the reproductive rights of a woman by permitting the termination of pregnancy when in opinion of a trained health professional," the proposed law states.

Mr Fred Mukasa Mbidde, who has just been re-elected to Eala as a Ugandan representative for a second term, said the Bill is still at committee level and is yet to be presented to the house.

"I have personally not looked at the details of the Bill but I will look at it using the lens of scientific research and fundamental human rights as contained in the charter," Mr Mbidde said, adding that the Bill needs to be discussed through public hearings before it is presented to the house for debate.

However, parents in Uganda and other pro-life activists are opposed to any attempts by the government or the regional parliament to introduce a law or a policy that provides contraceptives to children.

Fr Jonathan Opio of Human Life International - Uganda, said giving contraceptives to children without consent of their parents or guardians contravenes the Constitution of Uganda, which puts the age of consent at 18 years and above.

"This Bill is a licence for sexual abuse of little girls, claiming that it is all done with the best of intentions, and the best interest of the child. Whose child is interested in being given contraceptives and abortion?" Mr Opio wondered.

Health Vs morals

Mr Stephen Langa, the executive director of Family Lifework, said giving contraceptives to children is not a health matter but rather a moral issue.

However, while presenting the proposal to the parents, Dr Christine Biryabarema, a senior obstetrician and gyaenacologist at Mulago hospital, advised them that it is better to deal with a teenager on contraceptives than one who is pregnant.

She said teenagers aged 16 and 19 years are at high risk of pregnancy.

Other projects

Meanwhile, Makerere University School of Public Health, last week launched a new €3.7m (about Shs14b) project funded by the Dutch Nuffic, to strengthen education and training capacity in sexual and reproductive health and rights in Uganda.

Dr Monica Kizito, a parent, said the proposed policy by the Ministry of Health and the EAC Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Bill 2017, are an attack on the family in a year which has been declared as one for the family by religious leaders. "The only 100 per cent effective way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence from premarital sex," Dr Kizito said as she advised parents to take on their parenting role.

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