Ugandan MPs reject birth control for teenage girls, raising concerns about high rates of pregnancy and the need for comprehensive sex education

Ugandan lawmakers recently rejected a government proposal to allow 15-year-old girls access to birth control pills in an effort to address the high levels of teenage pregnancy in the country. The decision has sparked a heated debate, with some arguing that it would “formalize defilement” of young girls while others emphasize the importance of providing reproductive health information and services to youth.

According to a survey, nearly a quarter of 15- to 19-year-old girls in Uganda are either pregnant or already mothers. This number has significantly increased during the Covid-19 lockdown when schools were closed for an extended period. The rejection of the birth control proposal raises concerns about the lack of comprehensive sex education and access to reproductive health services for young people in Uganda.

During the parliamentary debate, MP Lucy Akello expressed fear that the proposal would lower the age of consent from 18 years to 15 years. She described the idea of offering contraceptives to 15-year-olds as “scary” and advocated for abstinence instead. However, some health officials argue that providing access to reproductive health information and contraceptives is a fundamental right and a necessary measure to address the high rates of teenage pregnancy.

Primary Healthcare Minister Margaret Muhanga clarified that the proposal had not been approved by the government but was put forth by a senior medical officer. She highlighted the urgent need to address teenage pregnancy, questioning whether it was better for a child to get pregnant and risk complications during childbirth. Muhanga emphasized that there are “so many teenage pregnancies” in Uganda and called for a comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health education.

Despite arguments in favor of providing access to birth control, the deputy speaker dismissed the proposal, stating that it “should never see the light of day”. This decision reflects the deeply religious nature of Ugandan society, where some religious leaders have also voiced opposition to the proposal, advocating for abstinence instead.

The rejection of the birth control proposal highlights the urgent need for comprehensive sex education and access to reproductive health services in Uganda. High rates of teenage pregnancy pose significant risks to the health and well-being of young girls. It is essential to foster an environment where young people can access accurate information and contraception without stigma, discrimination, or judgment.

Efforts should be made to address cultural and religious beliefs that hinder access to reproductive healthcare. Providing comprehensive sex education in schools and promoting open discussions about sexual health can help reduce teenage pregnancy rates. Furthermore, ensuring that healthcare facilities are equipped to provide reproductive health services to young people is crucial.

The rejection of the birth control proposal should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, educators, and the society as a whole. It is crucial to prioritize the well-being and rights of young girls and ensure that they have access to the information and services they need to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. Only through comprehensive sex education and accessible healthcare can we effectively address the issue of teenage pregnancy in Uganda.