About 100 parents and guardians to teenage mothers in Gakenke District were on Tuesday tipped on the provisions under which abortion can be procured, with officials cautioning them against unsafe abortions.
The sensitisation was part of Baho Neza Campaign, an integrated campaign aimed at promoting child and maternal health and reducing the number of teenage pregnancies in the country.
"We need to explain the law that prescribes circumstances in which abortion can be legally carried out," said Theobald Mporanyi, a public health expert with Health Development Initiative (HDI).
"This is important because some people resort to illegal and unsafe ways that can sometimes result into death of the mother."
Domithile Mukandengo, whose 17-year-old daughter got pregnant, said she cannot encourage anyone to resort to abortion because that would be a crime, unless in the case where the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.
"It is understandable that a 15 or 16-year-old will not give birth easily. If laws are to be followed, I think it is right to go for safe abortion. What I don't agree with is doing it using underhand and unsafe methods," Mukandego said.
Circumstances under which abortion can be carried out include cases of rape, when the victim is a minor, incest or forced marriage and when pregnancy puts the health of the mother or fetus at risk.
All these circumstances have to be validated by an authority, especially a doctor.
The parents and guardians were also warned against banishing children after they get pregnant because doing so could have negative effects on the health of the pregnant girl.
The campaign also focuses on other laws related to early pregnancy. These include laws concerning civil registration of children born to underage girls and criminal liability of perpetrators of teen pregnancies.
"Even when a baby is born, that does not absolve the rapist," said Mporanyi, adding that the person responsible for rape should be traced and brought to book.
"You should not be silent about gender-based violence," added Mporanyi, who is a former Member of Parliament.
At least 70,714 teenage girls got pregnant since 2016 to August 2019, according to official figures.
As of August 2019, Gakenke District had over 800 teenage pregnancies reported.
In some cases, there are girls who get pregnant for the second time before they are in their twenties, which Mporanyi said calls for use of and availability of birth control services.
Culture of silence
On culture of silence, Maria Uwajeneza, a resident in Gakenke, whose two teenage daughters got pregnant, said people should not keep silent about those responsible for the unplanned pregnancy of their children.
"It is a bad practice, and people should expose those who put the lives of our children at risk."
Families of some rape victims are said to collaborate with leaders at grassroots level in covering up for the perpetrators.
"It is very unfortunate that some parents connive with local leaders to protect those who impregnate their children," said Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi, Governor of the Northern Province.
He said that most of the perpetrators are adults who at times "bribe" them into silence.
"Parents are told the person will marry the girl when the child is born, which is a way to evade prosecution," he said, adding that this window allows for the perpetrator to escape and resettle in out parts of the country or even leaves the country altogether.
"We encourage schools, grassroots leaders and everyone concerned to work together to discourage that practice. That is the way we can fight this problem," he added.
The three-year campaign will be conducted across all the districts was launched by Imbuto Foundation and the Ministry of Health, together with other partners, mainly working in the health sector.