This World Contraception Day, we highlight the worrying situation in Romania, where the political climate as well as the loss of development funding since the country joined the EU has created a serious obstacle to access to contraception. The impact on young girls, particularly from vulnerable groups such as the Roma community, is very damaging. Borbala Koo, Executive Director of the Societatea de Educatie Contraceptiva si Sexuala (SECS), IPPF’s Romanian Member Association, explains:
“For more than a decade, unintended pregnancies in Romania have significantly affected young people. More than 11% of deliveries in the country are by girls below 20 years of age. Of these, the number of girls giving birth at below 15 years of age is rising, from 551 in 2006 to 748 in 2011. 30 of these very young girls gave birth to their second child in 2011. SECS works to mobilise civil society organizations to join its advocacy efforts aiming to persuade the government to design coherent strategies and interventions to tackle this issue.
Sexuality education is provided very unevenly across the country, partly due to religion sensitivities. Meanwhile, general awareness campaigns about SRHR do not exist, and there is no training for teachers and healthcare professionals who are so key to improving access to contraceptive choice and reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. All modern contraceptive methods are available across the country to a certain extent. But there is currently no reimbursement for contraceptives, and while in the past some kinds were available free of charge to vulnerable groups (e.g. students, unemployed people, those living in rural areas and people with limited financial resources), this is no longer the case. In any case, these efforts to increase access were hampered by small budgets leading to limited stocks. The result is that in recent years, more than 17,000 women with three or more children have given birth to another one, and around 2000 women have had their eighth, ninth or tenth child. SRHR policies tackling unintended pregnancies, particularly among the very young and vulnerable groups, are urgently needed.
This situation is all the more frustrating given that a progressive and human-rights based SRHR strategy was drafted between 2009 and 2011 as part of a collaborative effort between NGOs, WHO, UNFPA and the Romanian Ministry of Health. This included access to family planning services and contraception, education, and awareness of modern contraceptive methods. It contained a particular emphasis on vulnerable groups, with special attention to rural communities and the inclusion of community nurses and Roma health mediators among professionals delivering FP services.
Sadly, as a result of political instability and lack of commitment, the strategy was never endorsed and is now becoming out of date. In the meantime, the political climate has become less favourable to SRHR, and the Health Ministry has stopped truly consulting NGOs in policy formulation. This is partly due to the powerful influence of religious groups. In all, we fear that the progressive and human rights-based elements of the previous strategy may be written out of any future policy, which will be very damaging for young women, and particularly vulnerable groups, in Romania.
We call urgently upon our government to put an end to this regressive slide backwards and ensure sufficient resources to increase accessibility for all young women. It is essential that Romania implement a new SRHR strategy as soon as possible.”
Photo: IPPF/Graeme Robertson