Uganda’s lawmakers have sparked controversy by rejecting a proposal to allow 15-year-old girls to access birth control pills.
The aim was to address the high levels of teenage pregnancy in the country. However, Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa branded the idea “devilish” and claimed it would only serve to normalize the abuse of young girls.
The rejection of the proposal comes at a time when Uganda is struggling with a significant teenage pregnancy problem. According to a survey, nearly a quarter of 15- to 19-year-old girls in the country are either already mothers or pregnant. This startling statistic is a cause for concern and should prompt urgent action to address the issue.
The situation worsened during the Covid-19 lockdown when schools were closed for an extended period. Without access to education and support, young girls were left vulnerable to early pregnancies, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and limited opportunities in their lives.
During a heated parliamentary debate on the matter, MP Lucy Akello questioned whether the age of consent was in danger of being lowered from the current 18 years to 15 years. This raised further concerns among lawmakers and the public, adding to the fear and uncertainty surrounding the issue.
Ms. Akello voiced her opposition to the proposal, describing it as “scary.” She even went on to claim that she relied on the “natural method” as contraception, implying that alternatives like birth control were unnecessary.
In response to the debate, Primary Healthcare Minister Margaret Muhanga clarified that the government had not approved the proposal but that it had been put forward by a senior medical officer, Dr. Charles Olaro. Minister Muhanga defended the idea, asking if it was better for a child to become pregnant and risk dying during childbirth. She emphasized the urgency of addressing the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the country.
The rejection of the birth control proposal is a setback in the fight against teenage pregnancy in Uganda. It reflects a conservative mindset that fails to prioritize the well-being and future prospects of young girls. By denying them access to contraception, lawmakers are effectively limiting their choices and perpetuating a cycle of poverty and early motherhood.
Dr Olaro emphasized the significance of ensuring unrestricted access to reproductive health information, highlighting its status as a fundamental right rather than a mere matter of personal choice. In his statement to the privately owned Daily Monitor newspaper, he underscored the importance of creating an inclusive environment where young individuals can readily obtain information on sexual and reproductive health as well as contraceptives, without facing any form of stigma, discrimination, or judgment.
However, the deputy speaker expressed strong opposition to the proposal, firmly stating that it should not be considered or implemented.
It is worth noting that Uganda is a society deeply rooted in religious beliefs, and a group of religious leaders has also voiced their dissent towards the proposal. Their perspective suggests that teenagers should practice abstinence as a means of addressing the issue of teenage sexual activity.