In a potential policy change, Uganda’s Ministry of Health is considering allowing girls as young as 15 years old to access contraceptive services. This shift in policy aims to address the issue of early pregnancies in the country.
Dr. Charles Olaro, the director for curative services at the Ministry of Health, announced the proposal, emphasizing that providing access to reproductive health information and services to all individuals, including young people, is a matter of fundamental rights and public health. The focus will primarily be on out-of-school teenagers and young adults.
However, religious leaders, including the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) Secretary General Joshua Kitakule and Sheikh Ali Waiswa, the deputy mufti of Uganda, have expressed concerns about the potential negative consequences of promoting contraceptives among unmarried youths.
The Catholic Church, which opposes the use of contraceptives, holds significant influence in Uganda, with a large portion of the population adhering to its teachings.
Uganda has historically promoted the “ABC” strategy (Abstaining, Being faithful, and using Condoms) for sexual and reproductive health, emphasizing that sex should be enjoyed in marriage.
Dr. Olaro and other supporters argue that providing access to contraceptives is crucial, especially for young people who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, or unsafe abortions.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in teenage pregnancies in Uganda, highlighting the need for a change in approach to address this issue. According to a recent report, approximately one in every four 19-year-olds in Uganda was either pregnant or had given birth.
The government’s decision to permit contraceptive access for 15-year-olds is still pending formal approval, but it aligns with global commitments to promote family planning among adolescents and young adults.
Over the years, Uganda has made various commitments to extend family planning services to adolescents and young people, recognizing the importance of addressing early pregnancies.
Critics have raised concerns about whether this move implicitly condones sexual activity among individuals below the age of consent (18 years), but proponents argue that empowering young people with information and access to services is essential to reduce early pregnancies.
While there are concerns about the potential risks, including HIV transmission and the long-term effects of early contraceptive use, supporters believe that providing access to contraception is a necessary step to protect young people’s health and future opportunities.
Efforts are also being made to address the negative attitudes of health workers, parents, and religious and cultural leaders towards contraceptives for young people, ensuring that adolescents and young women can access sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination.