The East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) has drafted a Bill seeking to introduce contraceptives for children and teenagers aged between 10 and 19.
The Bill dubbed the EAC Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Bill 2017, if passed into law will bind the East African Community member states to provide contraceptives to all EAC citizens including children.
The Bill also seeks to legalise abortion.
The EAC member states include; Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
The Bill, currently at committee stage is among pending business to be handled by the new Eala legislators as soon as they assume office.
The Bill comes in the wake of a proposal mooted by the government of Uganda to introduce family planning for pupils. The Health ministry would roll out contraceptive use to children aged 10 years and above even as the Health minister denied knowledge of the Bill.
According to a draft copy prepared by Dr Odette Nyiramilimo, a Rwandan Eala legislator, the law intends to prevent unwanted pregnancies, risky abortion and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
The law would also legislate for quality sexual reproductive health care, education and all services for the EAC member states.
“The partner states shall ensure that adolescents and young persons get access to relevant quality and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services including contraceptives and condoms,” reads Section 17(2) of the proposed Bill.
Part I (2) of the proposed Bill, describes an “Adolescent" as any person aged between 10 and 19 years.
The proposed legislation also requires member states to design and implement sexual and reproductive public education.
If the law is endorsed, every individual would have a right to choose and consent to any method of birth control, including sterilization, a method where a woman is not able to bear children again.
Under Section 15 (1), the Bill intends to legalise abortion, provided the pregnancy endangers the woman’s health and life.
“The partner states shall safeguard and give effect to the reproductive rights of a woman by permitting the termination of pregnancy when in opinion of a trained health professional,” the proposed law states.
Mr Fred Mukasa Mbidde, the Ugandan legislator who has just been re-elected to serve his second term in Eala said the Bill is still at committee level and is yet to be presented to the House.
“I personally have not looked at the details of the Bill but I will look at it using the lens of scientific research and fundamental human rights as contained in the charter,” Mr Mbidde said, adding the Bill needs to be discussed through public hearings before it is presented to the House for debate.
“The Bill will have to be discussed by the Legal committee where I am a member and we have to ensure it’s not inconsistent with domestic laws and the human rights charter,” he added.
However, parents in Uganda and other pro-life activists are opposed to any attempts by the government or the Regional Parliament to introduce a law or a policy that provides contraceptives to children.
Fr Jonathan Opio of Human Life International – Uganda, said giving contraceptives to children without consent of their parents or guardians contravenes the Constitution of Uganda which puts the age of consent at 18 years-and-above.
“This Bill is a license for sexual abuse of little girls, claiming that it is all done with the best of intentions, and the best interest of the child. Whose child is interested in being given contraceptives, and abortion?” Opio wondered.
Mr Stephen Langa, the executive director of Family Lifework said giving contraceptives to children is not a health matter but rather a moral issue.
However, while presenting to the parents, Dr Christine Biryabarema, a senior obstetrician and gyaenacologist at Mulago Hospital advised them that it’s better to deal with a teenage on contraceptives than one who is pregnant.
She said teenagers aged 16 and 19 are at high risk of pregnancy and need to be given contraceptives as long as they are sexually active.
Meanwhile, Makerere University School of Public Health, last week launched a new 3.7 million euro project funded by the Dutch Nuffic, to strengthen education and training capacity in sexual and reproductive health and rights in Uganda.
Dr Monica Kizito, whose has daughter in 12 and son aged 16, said the proposed policy by the Ministry of Health and the SRHR, Bill 2017 , are an attack on the family in a year which has been declared as the year of the family by religious leaders.
“The only 100 per cent effective way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence from premarital sex,” Dr Kizito said as she advised parents to take on their parenting role.