By Donah Mbabazi
Teen pregnancy and childbearing has remained a daunting challenge for society. A number of interventions and programmes have been invested in; empowerment and sensitisation campaigns have been carried out, but the issue persists.
Nonetheless activists are still relentless in their fight. One of these is 24-year-old Miriam Nsekonziza, a student at African Leadership University. She has been a part of this fight for over four years now.
Through organisation of events and sensitisation campaigns, she hopes to put an end to this adversary.
Her drive against this vice started way earlier at the age of 20. Nsekonziza says she couldn’t stand to see young girls become mothers at such a young age and because of that, she vowed to take part in this fight and work tirelessly to make a change.
She then decided to establish an initiative ‘Arame’ (Kinyarwanda for ‘living long’) and its main purpose is to provide sexual and reproductive health education to adolescents (both boys and girls) between the ages of 11 and 19.
Through this initiative, she has reached out to schools and a batch of parents and healthcare professionals. The initiative’s campaigns are always targeting a minimum of 100 adolescents per cycle. This has especially been done in holidays in order for the beneficiaries to maximise benefits from this form of education.
For four years now, she has been empowering and at the same time discerning this issue. And though she has been perplexed by its intensity, she vows to create a lasting impact.
“In 2017, I did some research on community issues and I realised that teenage pregnancy is one that needs urgent interventions. My focus on this issue is because I wanted to find out why the numbers of teen pregnancies keep on increasing and what I can do as a contribution towards solving this issue,” Nsenkoziza says.
Among her observations, cultural beliefs still stand strong as a barrier for teens in terms of accessing information. And this, she says, makes them exposed to unintended pregnancies.
With some of the interactions she made, she also observed that poverty is one of the leading causes of teen pregnancies, she says.
“Some adolescents that lack basic necessities trade sex for money. However, ignorance also accompanies many because they are in most cases not aware of the possibility of pregnancy. In addition to these, violence in homes and society accounts for a number of cases too,” she reveals.
An increased burden to society
Nsekonziza points out that if this isn’t addressed soon, it will continue affecting society and slowing development.
“We are seeing an increased burden to society; such issues pose an increase in school dropouts and this will definitely lead to street children, especially for the adolescents who don’t have the means to raise their children. All this does not encourage development but instead slows progress.”
Her vision is to ensure a safe environment for adolescents. She also envisions society where girls finish school, build careers and fulfil their potential. This way, she believes their lives and their communities too will be kept whole and will definitely rise out of poverty.
“For young girls and boys to realise their full potential, we all ought to be completely engaged in the fight against teen pregnancies. Let us educate our youth, let us equip them with the knowledge about their bodies and sexuality,” she says.
With this, she calls on everyone to be the voice of young people. She encourages nurturing of an enabling environment for young people, especially through creation of safe spaces that allows them to participate in development.
“This will give them confidence and relevance. Also, the presence of these open platforms will encourage their engagement in their development and that of the country at large,” she says.
On this note, Nsekonziza highlights that going forward, fighting this problem requires joint effort from multiple stakeholders.
“It is only when we are all involved that the situation is bound to change. This is so because a big component of the solution requires a change in the mind-set towards sex education, access to contraceptives, teachings about sexually transmitted diseases and young people’s health in general.”