In a significant policy reversal, the Ugandan government has announced that it will allow girls as young as 15 years old to access contraceptive services, with the aim of reducing early pregnancies.
This announcement follows Uganda’s compact with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to promote birth control among young people.
Priority for Out-of-School Teens and Young Adults
Dr. Charles Olaro, the director for curative services at the Health Ministry, revealed this new policy, emphasizing that their priority will be out-of-school teenagers and young adults.
He stressed that providing access to reproductive health information and services is not just a matter of choice but a fundamental right and a public health necessity.
The policy shift has faced opposition from religious leaders, particularly the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU). Some argue that this move will promote promiscuity among youths who should practice abstinence.
The Catholic Church, which opposes the use of contraceptives, raises concerns about the influence of faith on this matter.
Changing Trends and Ongoing Challenges
Despite the historical “Abstain, Be Faithful, and Use Condoms” approach to sexual and reproductive health, the Ugandan Health Ministry argues that times have changed.
They believe that age-appropriate information about sexual and reproductive health needs to be provided to young people, especially when they are out of school, to reduce vulnerabilities, gender-based violence, child pregnancies, and unsafe abortions.
Epidemic of Early Pregnancies During Lockdown
Advocates like Mr. Jackson Chekweko, the executive director of Reproductive Health Uganda, point out the surge in early pregnancies during the COVID-induced lockdown and the need for a change in approach.
They argue that empowering young people with information and access to contraceptives is essential to address this issue.
Supporters and Critics
Supporters of the policy believe that it empowers young people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
They stress the importance of access to contraception in preventing early pregnancies. Critics, however, express concerns about potential risks, including exposure to HIV and the long-term effects of early contraceptive use.
Government’s Commitment and Challenges
While the policy shift has not been formally approved, it aligns with the government’s global commitments to promote access to family planning options among adolescents and young adults.
These commitments date back to the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012 and have been reiterated in various national policies and plans.
The debate surrounding this policy reveals the complexity of balancing public health goals with cultural and religious beliefs.
It highlights the ongoing challenges in addressing early pregnancies and providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services to young people in Uganda.