Condom distribution in Rwanda's high schools

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Rwandan teenagers are having sex, despite calls for abstinence by authority figures. Condoms are cheaply available, but not in schools. RNW's blogger in Kigali says it’s time to equip youth with the right tools to practise safe sex.

By Sunny Ntayombya, Kigali

Very few people had heard of Emmanuel Usabye until he fell into hot soup. Formerly the director at Groupe Scolaire Nsinda, a high school in Rwamagana, the capital of Rwanda’s Eastern Province, he was suspended and then fired for alleged gross negligence. What did he do? Under his watch, 26 members of the student body were found pregnant.

Of course the entire community went up in arms. One case of teenage pregnancy in Rwanda is worthy of a school scandal. Just imagine the furore when it was discovered that 26 girls, many below 18, the age of consent, were carrying a child in their belly.

Everyone, from the chairman of the parent’s committee to the province’s governor, expressed outrage. Blaming the school administration, the former told a daily newspaper: “With such levels of teenage pregnancies, we are heading nowhere as a community. The administrators gave bad example to children.”

She said she wanted to see that the “culprits are brought to book”, adding: “It is disgusting to hear what happened to the girls.”

Fertile ground in Rwanda
To understand this reaction one must understand that Rwanda is an extremely conservative and religious nation. Throw in the fact that Evangelical Christianity – with its hush-hush and fire-and-brimstone attitude towards extramarital sex – is the most popular religious leaning in the country. And voilà: you have the conditions that made the Groupe Scolaire Nsinda affair possible.

As I wrote in a previous blog, sex education is severally lacking in the country. Parents don’t talk to their kids about it. Neither do their teachers. Whatever they are learning is through their peers – a case of the blind leading the blind.

On one side, you have a society that treats sex as a taboo. On the other, you have a state doing all it can to publicize safe sex, HIV prevention and family planning. The issue is that the government campaigns are geared towards adults, not teenagers who, despite their parents’ protestations, are still engaging in sexual intercourse.

Condom dispensers
One of the tools being used to combat unsafe sex is the condom dispenser. Found in university hallways, bars and nightclubs, these chucky machines hand out three condoms for the affordable price of 300 Rwandan francs (about 5 euro cents). And teenagers use these machines to buy condoms. Everyone knows they do – but it’s all nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Let anyone talk about actually putting these machines in their schools and there is open revolt.

"I don't believe in condoms being distributed in secondary schools... It's a no go zone. The children are, in the first place, not mature enough to know how to use condoms," Innocent Nshimiyemungu, a deputy head teacher at Lycée de Ruhengeri APICUR, told a reporter.

Edward Asiimwe, who has two teenage daughters, went even further. "To say that condoms be introduced to these young children means we have lost our sense of direction and morals. We should emphasize postponement of sexual activity by encouraging these young people to embrace abstinence.”

The message of abstinence is being preached, but teenagers are still having sex. No matter what teachers, religious leaders or their parents tell them, they will continue to do so because, like us adults, they find it fun. If they were given the tools to satisfy their curiosity and sexual instincts safely, then the 26 girls in Rwamagana would still be in school. Now they will probably drop out to take care of their infants. It’s a sad, sad business.