Contraceptives for children: What are the pros and cons

By Bukomba Ronald Dennis

The recent government decision to permit children aged 15 and above to access contraceptives has sparked intense debates across Uganda. This move follows concerning statistics from among other agencies, the United Nations Population Fund, stating that one in four girls aged between 15 and 19 in Uganda is either pregnant or carrying her first child.

While the government’s intentions are praiseworthy, this policy has ignited mixed reactions from various segments of society. Some critics, including Hon. Dr. Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the Minister of State for Primary Education and a paediatrician, argue that contraceptives should be preserved for married individuals for family planning.

Additionally, religious leaders like Archbishop Dr. Samuel Stephen Kazimba Mugalu emphasize the moral objections, arguing that such a policy contradicts cultural norms and the law in Uganda, which forbids sexual activity among those under 18 years. These concerns raise questions about whether the age of consent has been lowered from 18 to 15.

Medical professionals are also wary, expressing concerns that the policy might hamper the nation’s efforts to combat sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. They worry that young people might engage in unprotected sex, believing they are safe from pregnancy, unaware of the risks they face.

Even Parliament has voiced criticism, with Deputy Speaker Hon. Thomas Tayebwa calling the idea ‘devilish’ and accusing it of formalizing the defilement of girls. The scepticism and opposition surrounding this policy prompt the question of whether its implementation will face insurmountable obstacles.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that various institutions, such as churches and schools, have had long-standing customs in place to prevent early childhood pregnancies. Many churches advocate abstinence, rooted in biblical teachings, and teach that sex is solely for the married. Likewise, schools emphasize these values and have implemented stringent rules to discourage sexual activity among students.

However, concerns arise as children below the age of 15, still in primary school or not having completed their education, might be influenced by the introduction of contraceptives, potentially encouraging early sexual engagement. To make an informed decision on this policy, stakeholders must recognize the reasons behind early childhood pregnancies.

Often, such pregnancies result from rebellion or ignorance, as children may reject moral teachings on abstaining from sex before marriage. They may also lack knowledge on how to prevent pregnancy during sexual activity. Therefore, the emphasis should be on continuing to educate children on these topics rather than exposing them to contraceptives.

It’s also worth noting that the most widely accessible contraceptive is the condom, which has been linked to the prevention of cervical cancer. In the midst of this debate, it’s essential to consider that many children in rural areas lack access to menstrual hygiene products, underwear, and sleepwear, which exacerbates the challenges they face.

In conclusion, the government’s move to allow children aged 15 and above access to contraceptives is commendable, aiming to address a concerning issue. However, the policy’s potential consequences, especially when considering existing customs and societal values, should not be overlooked.

A comprehensive approach, encompassing education, access to healthcare, and addressing the root causes of early childhood pregnancies, is essential to protect the future of Uganda’s youth.

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The author is a student at Islamic University in Uganda.

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