Fewer babies as women stay longer in classrooms
Having many children was previously considered a blessing in many African cultures, but with the rising cost of food, education and health; most parents and policymakers today think otherwise.
According to the finance ministry Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy report that is based on the 2010 demographic and health survey, fertility rates in the country have declined from 6.1 children per woman in 2005/2006 to 4.6.
“The main reason has been mobilization and sensitization. From the top leaders down to the health community workers, they have all been involved in sensitizing Rwandans,” said Arthur Asiimwe of the Health Communication Center.
Increased use of modern contraception has also been instrumental in bringing down fertility rates. The Ministry of Health says that the proportion of women aged 15-49 using modern contraception increased from 10 to 45%. This surpassed the 44% target.
The most commonly used modern methods were found to be injectable contraceptives, pills and implants. Only 6% of women reported using traditional methods.
“The fact that Rwandans understand better the importance of family planning has been very helpful. They now see that when you have fewer children, you are able to provide a better life for them in terms of food, clothing, education and health care,” Asiimwe said.
Education too, has played a big role. According to the same report, 60% of women with at least secondary education use contraception.
“This may be due to the fact that even though uneducated as well as educated women both want to have fewer children, the educated ones were more conscious of the options available for them to plan their child-bearing and how to get them,” said Emmanuel Mucangando, the officer in-charge of girl education in the ministry of education.
He added: “As their level of education goes higher, the women are more likely to want their children to be educated and realize what kind of future they want their children to have. This is really important as they are at the same time confronted with what it takes to attain that future.”
This was echoed by Asiimwe who added that “The more educated a woman is, the more she understands the value of family planning.”
Gisele Ingabire, a 23-year old university student said that when she gets married, which will not be until after she finished her studies, she will have only three children. “I think it will be easier to provide for them than it would be if I had 7 or 8 of them,” she said. Ingabire’s example is only one of the many illustrating the fact that an increasing number of girls consider their education very important and are focused on finishing their studies before they can think about marriage and children.
“When I finish secondary school, I want to go to university,” said Aline Umutoni, 17, who is in her 5th year. “I want to study medicine and become a doctor.”
High school enrolment also greatly impacts on lower fertility rate. “As a person is focused on education, they have less time to think about [marriage]. And when they finish university for example, they are around 25 years old, more experienced in life and are less likely to have many children thanks to their awareness,” said Mucangando.
He said that a woman who starts having children at 17 will have more children in her life than the one who starts having them at 26. “This is why making access to education a priority and paying attention to the retention and performance of children in schools may very well have a considerable impact on the fertility rates of our country.”
In 2010, there were about 425,587 students enrolled in secondary school, and 50.7% of them were girls. The girls who dropped out of school that year were 7.5%, mainly due to poverty, teenage pregnancy and others. Those who enrolled in higher education institutions were 62,734 and 43.8% of them were girls.
It was also realized that in general, women did not begin to use contraception until they have had at least one child.
About 52% of women who were in union with three or four children at the time of the survey were using a modern method of contraception. The use of modern methods among women in union peaked between age 25-39 (50-52%).
The country’s Vision 2020 and EDPRS are aiming for a fertility rate of 4.5 children per woman, which will soon be reached if one considers how the rate dropped from 6.1 to 4.6 in a period of only 5 years. “We can expect the fertility rate to go even lower by the time we reach 2020,” said Asiimwe.