A row has broken out in Uganda over proposals to extend sex education to 10-year-olds and give some 15-year-olds access to family planning services.
The Ministry of Health has refused to endorse the guidelines, which were designed to tackle the country’s high teenage pregnancy rate, objecting that they are morally wrong and would encourage promiscuity and abortions.
Activists condemned the decision as a “failure of leadership”.
Uganda’s first lady and minister for education, Janet Museveni, has also waded in to the controversy, calling the distribution of free contraceptives an “erosion of morals”.
At an event to mark International Day of the Girl last week, she said: “We no longer have pride to say no. People are given contraceptives to use them and do what they want, have sex, take pills, conceive and abort. This is not our culture in Africa.”
The revised national guidelines were drawn up by the health ministry’s own reproductive health division, with support from civil society organisations. They outline the need for “age-appropriate” sex education for 10- to 14-year-olds, promoting “information focusing on growth and development, life skills, proper nutrition and personal hygiene, abstinence, delay of sexual debut, staying in school”.
A broader range of services – including access to family planning and contraceptive services – were recommended for sexually active females between the ages of 15 and 49.
More than a quarter of 15- to 19-year-old girls in Uganda are pregnant or have given birth. Women have an average of five children, a figure the government wants to reduce, but just 24% of women use a modern form of contraception.
“There are certain provisions in the … guidelines that we don’t agree with, [we find] uncomfortable and can’t accept,” said Joyce Moriku, health minister. “How can you teach [sex education] and provide family planning services to children below 18? The civil society organisations should feel ashamed.”
But activists said the guidelines were “entirely appropriate”, considering the average age of first intercourse in Uganda is 16.
“The guidelines do not recommend family planning for 10-year-olds. The ministry is blocking guidelines they themselves contributed to,” said Asia Russell, of the Health Gap project.
Russell said the refusal to launch the revised proposals was symptomatic of a far greater problem. “The Ugandan government is resisting evidence-based interventions to respond to the crisis of teen pregnancy in the country – a crisis that has gotten no better over the last decade. Read more via the Guardian