This girl,aged between 15-22, is already a mother.
Looking back, Lucia*, a mother of five wishes she had had access to reproductive health education during her adolescence. She would not have undergone all the abortions she underwent.Seven, she counts.
Lucia, in her late thirties and now on family planning says she did not know how to prevent pregnancies apart from using the calendar method.
She says the method never worked well for her “We used to discuss this with girls in school and those experienced would teach us the safe and dangerous days on the menstrual calendar,” says Lucia.
According to her, she sometimes would rely on the calendar but would end up conceiving. Had she known about family planning then, perhaps she would not have had any abortion, she says.
In Morogoro, where she spent her early years of life, young people had no access to youth-friendly reproductive health services. Discussing such issues with parents or elder sisters was out of the question. “Neither would one dare buy the pills in a pharmacy. We used to fear what the pharmacist would say or think about us. They could also report us to the school or to our parents?”
The only family planning method she knew that time was the pill. But rumour had it that taking family planning pills would make her sterile.
Today Lucia regrets her actions and vows she will never let this happen to any of her three daughters. “I freely discuss sexuality matters with them and when the time comes, I will tell them what to do to avoid pregnancy. I will also tell them to never consider abortion incase anyone accidentally gets pregnant,” says Lucia.
Although she regrets having killed her unborn babies, she says she may not be where she is today had she given birth when she first got pregnant aged 16.
Lucia is a university graduate and lives and works in Dar es Salaam.
She calls upon parents to talk to their children, both girls and boys when they become of age to help them from engaging in risky behaviours such as abortion.
Health experts have it that abortion in Tanzania is very high. It’s put at about 450,000 abortions per year.
Winifrida Rutahindurwa, the gender issues coordinator at the education ministry says reproductive health is not taught in schools but as a topic in Biology subject.
When we were in secondary school, every one used to be anxious to learn about reproduction. We used to learn about the existence of the topic from our seniors and would wait eagerly for our turn to learn it. The topic used to be taught in form three.
“The problem is, students normally learn and memorise to answer exams. They need to know how to protect themselves, know their bodies,” says Rutahindurwa.
Rutahindurwa says it’s high time “we raised people’s awareness. People think children know nothing about sex.
They know more than we think they do. It’s high time children are taught early so they may not be deceived,” says Rutahindurwa.
She says this way, parents will be building their children’s skills to avoid trouble. She says parents should not underrate children. Neither should they feel shy to talk to them about sexuality.
“Let’s call a spade a spade. We need to tell our children not to allow people to touch their private parts,” says Rutahindurwa adding that this should start at family level.
Some private primary schools today teach the subject. Very few public schools are doing this, those under projects by NGOs dealing with such issues.
The United Nations Tanzania Deliver as One says there is a need to train teachers to teach both primary and secondary school students about appropriate and comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health and rights. Parents are also encouraged to discuss about sexual and reproductive health issues with their children.
There is also low (40%) coverage of youth friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services and adolescents’ inadequate access to those services.
Johnbosco Baso, Marie Stopes Tanzania (MST)’s Head of Communications says youths have a right to family planning and reproductive health services.
He says it’s the role of everyone to tell young people it’s their right and that they have to take initiatives to seek information from health facilities and service providers.
“The problem we have in Tanzania is that awareness is a big issue. Parents have to play their role very well. They know their role is to protect young people from having relationships but they are failing to understand that young people indulge themselves into relationships even before they turn 18,” says Baso.
Ulla Muller, MST’s country Director says institutions specializing in family planning and reproductive health are not allowed to do sensitization meetings with youths.
“We are not allowed in schools. I am not talking about us providing services in schools. I understand why we can not do that but they should allow us access especially into secondary schools,” Ulla says. She says MST can send young people working for them to sensitise and educate young people.
She calls upon the ministries of education and health to work together in this regard. “...that would for me be a big breakthrough…to allow us to come into schools and talk about family planning.
It’s not a curriculum thing currently and I suppose there is also the fear that we would encourage immorality, which is not what this is all about,” says Ulla.
She says it is about making sure that young couples will not have unsafe sex and that they don’t get pregnant and girls get kicked out of school.
hat already when we go to public health facilities.” Ulla says MST works so closely with the local governments and the districts, and that they can bring anyone from the districts with them to make sure they don’t do anything government finds inappropriate “which we will never do by the way. We just need the permission.”
The government needs to consider this. Provide youths with the information and services so they can make informed decisions. This will enable girls to reach their full potential and we will not have people like Lucia who resort to abortion because of lack of information and services.
* Name has been changed.