Approximately 15% of young women around the world give birth before they turn 18. And in countries like Rwanda, where the number of adolescent pregnancies is concerningly high, teen pregnancy is considered a major public health concern.
Motherhood can pose serious risks to adolescent girls, including health issues, long-term financial instability, dropping out of school, and stigma. But it doesn’t have to be this way. “We know that teen mothers are vulnerable and in need of intervention. But if they have access to the right information, they can thrive,” said Aline Umutesi, Girl Effect Rwanda’s Senior Manager of Content and Production.
This year, we launched the national Akurane Itoto (‘Growing Up Healthy’) campaign to ensure Rwandan teen mothers get the support they need.
The challenges teen mothers can face
A previous study we conducted in 2020 with the support of Rwanda’s Ministry of Health highlighted that a lack of childcare support stops teen and young mothers in Rwanda from accessing health services, immunisation and nutrition. These young women often have to juggle work and looking after their children, leaving them feeling alone and overwhelmed. The judgement and shame that they can face makes going out and seeking support even harder, too. The consequences of this are not to be underestimated — it could mean they forget their next vaccination appointment or are forced to skip work to take their child to the health centre.
“Some teen and young mothers are delaying vaccinating their children, not because they don’t value vaccinations or because they have the wrong information,” said Ilaria Buscaglia, Girl Effect Rwanda’s Senior Qualitative Analyst.
“Some have [instead] been rejected by their families and almost all have received no support from their children’s father. This means they have to provide for themselves and their children on a daily basis, including doing all sorts of odd jobs with their babies on their back.”
The power of information, role models and good self-esteem
In response, we created content through Girl Effect’s youth brand Ni Nyampinga, designed to empower girls and young mothers in Rwanda to get the healthcare and support they deserve.
This included information and success stories for Ni Nyampinga’s ‘Ni Bo Ejo’ (‘They are the Future’) mini-magazine, which encourage girls and young mothers to go for immunisations, practice safe feeding practices and read examples of teen mothers who have become economically self-reliant. We distributed 10,000 copies of the mini-magazine across the country in collaboration with the Rwanda Girl Guides Association, and girls and young mothers can also dial 845 to access this content through their phones.
Gaining support from teen fathers
As a key source of support for young mothers, boys and young fathers were also an important audience for this campaign. In partnership with the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), we distributed leaflets targeted to young men that included messaging around sharing childcare responsibilities and preventing teen pregnancies.
“The message on the leaflet is powerful and very inspirational,” shared a male parent from Nyabihu. “I used to laugh at other men who help their wives do home chores and accompany them to the health center. But I have changed my mindset. Last week, I brought my daughter to the health center to get the vaccine she skipped two months ago.”
We also hung 358 posters in health centre waiting rooms across seven districts in Rwanda, which showcase visual and written information on nutrition and immunisation and speak to the needs of both mothers and fathers.
The impact we’ve made
Through these collaborative efforts we have already reached over 9,600 teen, expectant and young mothers this year, 17,150 boys, young fathers and parents and over 350 health centres.
“Before coming across the Ni Bo Ejo mini-magazine, I believed that if my baby receives one or two vaccines, that’s enough. But the Akurane Itoto helped me know that I was wrong. They showed me all the types of vaccines a baby has to receive until he reaches 15 months old,” shared a teen mother from Huye district.
Campaigns like this show that increased awareness and good self-esteem can generate better health outcomes for teen mothers. This is essential to not only prevent teenage pregnancies in future, but to strengthen the confidence of teenage and young mothers in Rwanda, and enable them to see new opportunities for themselves and their children.
With thanks to our partners in this campaign: the National Youth Council, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Rwanda Girl Guides Association, Pact, Empower Rwanda, Duhozanye, ActionAid, Miracle Corners, Komera, AEE, and AVSI Rwanda.
Find out more about Ni Nyampinga and the impact it’s having on girls and young people across Rwanda here.