Campaign groups are stepping up their push for government to review a law that prevents provision of family planning services for teenagers under the age of 18years – even as up to 20,000 girls got pregnant last year.
Health Development Initiative (HDI), a local NGO, said last week that it is still waiting for government to act on two articles in the ‘Human Heath and Reproduction Law no 21/05/2016’.
Article 7 reads: “Subject to provisions of other laws, every person having attained the majority age has the right to decide for oneself in relation to human reproductive health issues”.
Article 11 adds: “The health professional who intends to provide healthcare services to a minor or an incapable person must endeavor to inform his/her parents or his/her representative or his/her guardian and obtain their prior consent”.
As par these articles, for example, no medical officer can risk giving birth control pills to a supposed minor or a person who could be deemed unable to make decisions on their own.
Early last year, thirteen (13) civil society groups and 40 individuals wrote a letter to the Health Minister singling out these particular articles as hindering the country’s response to the exploding underage and unwanted pregnancies.
In November the same year, the Prime Minister Dr. Edouard Ngirente told Senators that government would submit a bill to parliament to repeal the laws in question to allow more teenagers access family planning services.
The plan is to let the teenagers get the services, without necessarily requiring the approval of the parents.
Youth Minister Rosemary Mbabazi caused a stir in February this year when she said the 20,000 number of teenage girls impregnated last year is equal to the population of Rwabicuma sector in Nyanza district.
Dr Aphrodis Kagaba, the Executive Director of HDI, told journalists last week: “Until now, adolescents are facing serious challenges since they are still denied access to family planning services”.
Lawyer Gaudence Mukundwa, also member of the Rwanda Bar Association, told The Chronicles yesterday that in addition to the ‘Human Heath and Reproduction Law’, there were also articles in the new penal code that need to be looked into.
Article 125 provides 5 grounds for “Exemption from criminal liability for abortion”.
Ground 1 or section 1 sets that when “the pregnant person is a child”, they can be exempted from abortion.
However, Article 126 also sets parameters for that same child to be able to have an abortion.
The abortion can be done partly with the agreement of the parent or guardian. But in the case the parent disagrees, the wish of the pregnant child prevails.
Lawyer Mukundwa argues that the legal process for this abortion to occur takes too long.
“The case can take six months or even a whole year yet for the abortion to be done without severe complications requires less than 4 months of the pregnancy,” said Mukundwa.
The concerns over these articles in the penal code comes after those on the media were repealed following intervention from campaigners.