Minister hits back at clergy over condoms
Written by: George Kalisa
Thursday, January 4th, 2018, 9:06
Besides promoting the use of condoms we sensitize the youth on positive behaviour and abstinence, but we cannot lie to the world that we can achieve abstinence 100%
Rwandan’s Health Minister, Dr. Diane Gashumba, during an interview with this reporter, has criticized the Roman Catholic Bishop, Servilien Nzakamwita, who was recently quoted by the media as saying that the increasing teenage pregnancies in his Byumba Diocese and country at large should be blamed on the free distribution of condoms to teenage girls and he confessed that he had often stopped government agents from distributing condoms in schools.
In a reaction, Dr. Diane Gashumba challenged the Bishop to come up with an alternative preventive measure against HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis other than a condom that can protect the lives of the youth from such diseases, which particularly compelled the Rwandan government to promote the use of condoms in a situation when abstinence fails.
The minister said that though Bishop Nzakamwita is entitled to his views, his alleged statements were in disregard for the health situation, which the Rwandan government is addressing, were completely out of context.
Bishop Nzakamwita had allegedly told local leaders in a meeting that sought to address a cross-section of problems, youth related ones included that teenage girls see the free condoms as a license to fornicate, a programme he blamed for the increasing number of teenage pregnancies.
“When you give teenagers condoms they think that fornicating is lawful and to them they feel they have got a license to start fornicating, a new culture that is responsible for early pregnancies," said Bishop Nzakamwita.
Also, Bishop Nzakamwita reportedly blamed some parents for the situation saying parents saw no evil in providing condoms to their children as part of the school requirements they pack for them as they leave home for school.
“It is shocking that some parents have also confessed that condoms were among the school requirements they give to their children as they leave home, which makes children feel free to fornicate and I fear it will be hard for us to reverse the situation,” said Bishop Nzakamwita.
He allegedly said that despite the threats from government healthcare agents who distribute condoms to sue him to the government over his anti-condom advocacy among young people, he will go on to discourage the practice of giving condoms to young people.
But, the Health minister has said that her government bears full responsibility of promoting the health of the young people in schools and out of schools and promoting the use of condoms was one of the strategies.
“Bishop Nzakamwita should know that the government of Rwanda cares for the lives of the young people through many strategies. Besides promoting the use of condoms we sensitize the youth on positive behaviour and abstinence,” said Gashumba.
“But, it is wrong to keep on lying to the world that abstinence and positive behaviour can be achieved 100% when as government we have evidence that some youths in schools and outside schools fail to abstain. Yet, they are in the stage of being sexually active. Therefore, we promote the use of condoms as one of the alternatives to save youths from HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases,” added Dr. Gashumba.
The minister said that her government bears a burden of catering for child mothers and children that result from early pregnancies by giving them education among other social services and she challenged the Bishop to tell them how many victims of early pregnancies were under his care.
“The bishop is entitled to his views but Rwanda has 3% HIV/AIDS prevalence and a big number are youths and women and hence we cannot sit back, we have to promote preventive measures.
In fact, there is a programme underway to strengthen the free distribution of condoms by increasing the number of kiosks in all urban centres where they pick free condoms, but if the Bishop has an alternative other than the condoms we welcome it,” Dr. Gashumba said.
Other Rwandan independent social observers have too not had kind words for Bishop Nzakamwita.
Charles Muligande Sengabo, a Rwandan researcher has said that the Bishop’s utterances disregarded the fact that the youth lived in a digital era and said his condemnation of the government programme on condoms was more dangerous.
“As far as I am concerned the clergy is misguided on this because in the world of social media, young girls and boys are exposed to sexual world in early teens and this puts their lives in danger. So, condemning free condom distribution is more likely to lead to disastrous consequences such as early pregnancy, STDs and HIV/AIDS. I am of the view that the Roman Catholic Church and other community centred organisations embark on sensitisation of the community but also preach sexual education in order to have a healthy flock,” observed Sengabo.
The Church should understand that the government was responding to the problems that were already in place – that of early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS said Fatima Nibishaka Farida a resident in Kigali.
“The Bishop should blame himself for increasing teenage pregnancies. He has been chasing agents distributing free condoms but he forgets that the government’s action was in response to a practical health situation. In this century, you cannot expect just religion to stop fornication. A lot of players are involved including westernization and the social media platforms that convince young ones to have sex. Yes, they are having sex whether the Bishops want to accept it or not. So, having condoms will reduce the pregnancies,” said Nibishaka.
The disagreement between the Rwandan government and the Roman Catholic Church in the health sector stretches to family planning programme. All health centres and hospitals founded and run by the Roman Catholic Church discourage other family planning methods in favour of only the natural planning method.
According to UN Population Division estimates for 2015 and WHO Global health estimates 2015 adolescents in Rwanda between 10-19 years are 2,606,000 and median age is 19 years. Adolescent birth rate (per 1000 girls aged 15-19 years) stands at 45% while maternal mortality ratio per 1000 live births stands at 290.
The same survey says the estimated top causes of death for girls in Rwanda (2015) are malaria (19%), HIV/AIDS (10%), lower respiratory infections (7.0%), road injury (4.0%) and malignant neoplasms (4.0%).