The image of children as young as 10-years-old using contraception would no doubt be an unexpected one in our society. However, in its 2016 policy, the ministry of Health has proposed to have children as young as 10-years-old access family planning services.
According to the policy statement, all health facilities are to provide quality services of all adolescents irrespective of age, sex, ability to pay, marital status, school status, education level, location or ethnic origin. These will comprise birth control methods such as condoms, diaphragm, contraceptive pills, implants, IUD (Intra uterine devices), sterilisation and the morning after pill.
Target beneficiaries for these services will include schools, universities, religious centres, youth clubs in schools, and local council meeting places among others with the age bracket of 10-24 in mind.
According to the report, the overall teenage birth rate of women aged 15-19, per 1,000 women decreased from 204 to 135 between 1995 and 2011 with 24 per cent giving birth to their first child before turning 19.
Ministry officials argue that a policy of this nature will guide the delivery of quality integrated sexual and reproductive health services and contribute to reduction of maternal and newborn morbidity, disability and mortality.
While we commend the effort to take action on issues that are stumbling blocks in the road to development, we must question some of the strategies being considered. For instance, have all the options towards preventing early pregnancies been exhausted? If the age of consent as per the Constitution is 18 years, what would be the effects of giving children as young as 10 years access to contraceptives? Efforts must be put towards delaying sex as much as possible. Such policies need to be targeted at much older adolescents and parents must be involved too.
This calls for the institution of a sex education programme from as early as possible in schools that is strong on life skills and that enables children not only be well-informed about sex but also be equipped with decision making skills. The ministries of Health and Education need to combine their efforts in consultation with different stake holders to find remedies to early sex.
The family unit too is very important in this aspect. Parents should be empowered and encouraged to give sex education and support to children as early as possible and also creating environments that make them secure to prevent instances of defilement.