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Adolescents in Rwanda. Photo: Plan International

The context: Rwanda is a small landlocked country that borders Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most densely populated country in Africa, about one-quarter of its citizens are adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19, and 40% live below the poverty line.

Education and learning: Although younger adolescents’ access to primary school is good, older adolescents have only limited access to secondary school. Enrolment rates are under one-third for girls and just over one-quarter for boys.1 Girls are more likely to enrol in both primary and secondary school than boys, but recent trends are concerning: over the last decade, girls’ primary repetition rate has increased, their primary completion rate has declined, their transition rate to lower-secondary school has dropped and their enrolment in upper-secondary school has declined relative to that of boys.2

Bodily autonomy, integrity and freedom from violence: Child marriage is rare in Rwanda, but girls are vulnerable to other forms of violence – including physical and sexual violence. Sexual violence is often perpetrated by older men (‘sugar daddies’) who exploit girls by promising them money or gifts in exchange for sex.3 It is rarely reported – in part because prosecution rates are low. Corporal punishment is very common in Rwanda and impacts both boys and girls at both home and at school.4

Health, nutrition, and sexual and reproductive health: Younger adolescents are comparatively unlikely to become pregnant in Rwanda. However, by the age of 18, one-fifth of girls are pregnant.5 In addition, Rwanda is one of the few countries in which rates of teenage pregnancy are increasing. Rwandan 18–19-year-old girls are 10 times more likely to become HIV-positive than boys of the same age, in part due to the fact that their partners are older men.6 Little is known about adolescent girls’ and boys’ broader health or nutrition.

Psychosocial well-being: Asked to identify the important drivers of their own happiness, adolescent girls in Rwanda report attending – and succeeding in – school, as well as having parental support, friends and a measure of control over their own lives.7 Poverty, unplanned pregnancy and violence are reported by girls to be detrimental to their well-being.8

Voice and agency: Rwanda is an international leader on women’s access to voice and agency, boasting the world’s highest rate of women’s parliamentary representation at the national level. Research found that some adolescent girls see the large number of female MPs as role models, encouraging them to raise their aspirations.9 However, adolescent girls’ access to decision-making at household and community levels is limited by social norms that encourage them to do as adults and men tell them.10

Economic empowerment: Poverty limits the trajectories of Rwandan adolescents. Nearly 40% are poor and nearly 20% are extremely poor.11 Most older teenagers are employed, primarily in agriculture. Girls are disadvantaged compared to boys. Not only are their unemployment rates higher, but they are more likely to be confined to the agricultural sector and to be unpaid workers.12

The evidence base: Our Evidence Mappings concluded that there is considerable evidence about adolescent girls in Rwanda – but that, outside of educational statistics, much of it centres around older girls. In addition, sexual and reproductive health is over-represented.1314

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