In Rwanda, only 20% of sexually active unmarried young women use family planning as compared to 64% of married women. Adolescence is an important time of growth and development that often includes the initiation of sexual activity. Sexually active adolescents need support in accessing contraceptive services to prevent negative health outcomes. In sub-Saharan Africa, the adolescent population represents a large share of the total population and that proportion is predicted to expand over time. Adolescent contraceptive needs have largely been unmet, and with growing numbers, there is increased potential for negative health sequelae. Due to the low use of contraception by adolescents in Rwanda, and the growing population of adolescents, this study aims to explore the perspectives of family planning providers and adult modern contraceptive users on adolescent contraceptive use. Inclusion of adult community members in the study is a unique contribution, as research on adolescent contraceptive use in sub-Saharan Africa relies primarily on perspectives from adolescents and family planning providers.
This qualitative study in 2018 utilized 32 in-depth interviews with modern contraceptive users and eight focus group discussions with family planning providers. Respondents were from Musanze and Nyamasheke districts in Rwanda, the districts with the highest and lowest modern contraceptive use among married women, respectively. Coding was conducted in Atlas.ti.
Stigma regarding premarital sex results in barriers to adolescent access to contraceptive services. Family planning providers do provide services to adolescents; however, they often recommend secondary abstinence, offer a limited method selection, and accentuate risks associated with sexual activity and contraceptive use. Providers support adolescent clients by emphasizing the need for privacy, confidentiality, and expedient services, particularly through youth corners, which are spaces within health facilities designed to meet youth needs specifically. Modern contraceptive-using adult female community members advocate for youth access to contraception, however mothers have mixed comfort discussing sexual health with their own youth.
To destigmatize premarital sexual activity, government efforts to initiate communication about this topic must occur at national and community levels with the goal of continued conversation within the family. The government should also train family planning providers and all health personnel interacting with youth on adolescent-friendly health services. Dialogue between community members and family planning providers about adolescent access to contraceptive services could also reduce barriers for adolescents due to community members’ generally supportive views on adolescent contraceptive use. Efforts to engage adolescent caregivers in how to talk to youth about sex could also contribute to expanded use.