A Ministry of Health proposal to have school children as young as 10 years access birth control services has set off a storm with the Ministry of Education pointing out that it was not consulted.
Religious leaders interviewed yesterday also observed that the proposal raises moral questions.
The Education ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mr Alex Kakooza, commenting on the Ministry of Health’s policy proposal that would have all health centres providing birth control services to adolescents, said he only got to learn of the plan through the Daily Monitor.
He explained that before such a proposal is adopted in any school, the Ministry of Health must involve key stakeholders.
Mr Kakooza and other Ministry of Education officials spoke on the issue after addressing the press in Kampala during the official opening of the Senior Five selections exercise.
“If Ministry of Health is targeting the risk population that is not in school, they are right and in order but if they are targeting learners in schools, they must meet with us first to agree on the content,” said Mr Kakooza.
“As a ministry, we do not intend to introduce contraceptives for the girl-child in schools at all,” he said.
The Health ministry wants health facilities to provide services to all adolescents irrespective of age, sex, ability to pay, marital status, school status, education level, location or ethnic origin.
Some of the target beneficiaries would include universities, schools, religious centres, youth clubs in schools and Local Council/Youth Council meeting places. Others are workplaces, recreational centres, electronic and media platforms and key social gatherings.
The undersecretary Ministry of Education, Mr Aggrey Kibenge, said contraceptives can be accessed by children who are not in school.
Archbishop of Kampala Cyprian Kizito Lwanga cautioned government about policies that contradict church teachings.
He said the Roman Catholic Church only allows ‘natural birth control methods” through not having sexual intercourse during the fertile period of a woman’s monthly cycle.
“So we require the Catholic couples to be faithful to the church’s teachings on sexuality and ensure that children do not use family planning. The use of family planning is a substantial breach of church teachings,” said Archbishop Lwanga.
Referring to the Quran, the Mufti of Uganda, Sheikh Shaban Mubajje, said Allah takes care of all the needs of all human beings.
“We should not hesitate to bring children into the world out of fear or for selfish reasons. We must also remember that no method of birth control is 100 per cent effective. Allah is the creator, and if Allah wants a couple to have a child, we should accept it as his will.”
The Centre for Human Rights and Development executive director, Mr Moses Mulumba, however, backed the Ministry of Health.
He said the policy must be supported to prevent children from getting unwanted pregnancies.
Pastor Martin Nangoli of the Wake Up Ministries in Uganda said: “As a church, we regard sex outside marriage as morally wrong. We believe that abstaining from sex would be morally better than having sex before marriage and using birth control,” said Pastor Nangoli.
Ms Sarah Ssekalumbe, a parent said once children are exposed to contraceptives early, chances are high that they will suffer negative effects later in life.
“And in any case, we don’t want our children to be exposed to this because they will become immoral knowing very well that they can’t conceive,” said Ms Ssekalumbe.
Hajjat Maimuna Namutawe, the headmistress of Nyamitanga Secondary School in Mbarara District, advised that emphasis should instead be placed on guidance and counselling in schools.
“As a Muslim, I reject this and ask other child rights activists to reject the proposal immediately,” said Hajjat Namutawe.
The commonly known birth control methods include condoms, diaphragms, contraceptive pills, implants, IUDs (intrauterine devices), sterilisation and the morning after pill.
The proposal is the fourth edition of the 2016 policy, which was brought up by the Ministry of Health, development partners, civil society and implementing partners.
Health ministry responds
Ministry of Health’s acting director general of Health Services, Dr Anthony K Mbonye, last evening sought to rebuke the storm that greeted the proposal, calling the guidelines a draft, adding that they are in the process of reviewing the National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.
Dr Mbonye also explained that the policy aims at making explicit the direction of reproductive health within the context of primary healthcare.
“The guidelines are currently being reviewed and updated by the Minister of Health and partners to address changes in facts, statistics and practices, before a revised document can be endorsed for implementation,” Dr Mbonye said in a statement released last evening.
Reported by David Mafabi, Patience Ahimbisibwe, Darmalie Mukhaye & Joseph Kato