Perfect storm stokes teenage pregnancies
What you need to know:
- The Kumi District Woman MP blamed the recent surge in cases on the teacher’s strike that saw some girls drop out of school.
As her classmates prepared for second term examinations, Anyait (not real name), a Primary Five pupil of Kumi Township Primary School, had a pregnancy to contend with.
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Anyait, who is two months away from carrying the pregnancy full term, describes it as an “accident.” It happened, as fate would have it, following her first sexual encounter. It was with a herd’s boy who used to offer her Shs2,000 to buy sauce.
“My mum used to leave me with only flour without sauce. When I shared my challenges with this boy, he volunteered to give me money to buy vegetables and silver fish,” she recalls, adding, “After sometime, the boy started demanding for sex. I gave in because I still needed his support. When I got pregnant, the boy went into hiding.”
If her story sounds familiar, it is because such outcomes are rampant. In fact, Ms Christine Apolot, the Kumi District Woman Member of Parliament, says teenage pregnancy and child marriages in Teso Sub-region remain a millstone round the neck.
“In the three weeks that teachers were missing in class, a lot of damage was done to our girls. Most girls went for sex and got pregnant because they were idle,” she told Sunday Monitor, adding, “The situation has been worsened by famine. Some parents are marrying off girls to find something to eat.”
Ms Apolot urges the government to expedite the process of enhancing the salaries of teachers to put an end to strikes over pay that heavily contribute to school dropout cases.
“Parliament has already debated the motion and recommended salary harmonisation across the board, but the discrimination that has been emphasised in 2022/2023 will land the country into problems,” she warns, adding, “There is a lot that needs to be done to streamline the mistake that has been done. If they ignore some of these messages, the repercussions will be grave.”
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A former secondary school teacher herself, Ms Apolot adds: “Government should not celebrate that teachers have gone back to class. Teachers can be moving to school every day, but not attending to their normal duties. We must motivate them to keep children in school. We are witnessing an increasing number of teachers joining the boda boda business as a supplement to their household income.”
The Bukedea District chairperson, Mr Moses Olebukan, also admits that the current hard economic times have forced young girls to have sex in exchange for money.
“We have a group of young girls called ‘Team No Sleep.’ They loiter around looking for money in exchange for sex,” Mr Olebukan revealed, adding, “We also have ‘Team No Fear.’ They go in for older men saying, age is just a number. Such girls must be helped to stay in school.”
During this year’s World Population Day celebrations organised by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in partnership with the National Population Council in Kumi District on July 11, the UNFPA country representative, Dr Mary Otieno, emphasised that keeping girls in school is one of the game changers to postpone onset of child birth.
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This year’s global theme was: “A world of 8 billion: Towards a resilient future Harnessing opportunity and ensuring rights and choices for all.” The National theme was: “Mind-set change for wealth creation: Ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy.”
Dr Atieno says campaigns championed by UNFPA such as “Let girls be girls not brides”, “Books before babies” and “ Better Life for Girls” emphasise the importance of keeping girls in school so as to check teenage pregnancy in the country.
“We are aware that in Uganda, one in four girls gives birth by the age of 19,” she noted, adding, “In Teso Sub-region, the teenage pregnancy rates are much higher than the national average at 31 percent compared to the national 25 percent.”
According to Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), one in every three girls in Teso Sub-region gives birth before the age of 19. During the pandemic-induced lockdown, about 67,000 teenagers in Teso got pregnant.
Between 2019 and 2021, about 2,389 girls in Kumi alone got pregnant as per the district chairperson, Mr Nelson Elungat Lakol.
Teenage pregnancy is attributed to sexual abuse, exploitation, pressure to contribute to family welfare due to poverty, parental neglect, lack of guidance and counselling. The 2020 National Survey on violence revealed that over the last 45 years, more than half of the girls have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
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The same survey indicates that about 64 percent of the teenage mothers will not complete primary education level. Sixty percent of the teenage mothers will end up in peasant agriculture work. Teenage pregnancy, it adds, will persist, with 50 percent of the teenage girls at risk each year.
Dr Etieno says teenage pregnancy is a major health, social and economic issue that has affected many young people, their families, communities and countries globally.
For the individual teenager, early childbearing has potential to disrupt their development into adulthood. Teenage pregnancy is also associate with unsafe risks such as unsafe abortions. Adolescent mothers are also at a risk of poverty since those who get pregnant may drop out of school, reducing their potential for gainful employment and increasing their dependency rate.
A recent study undertaken by UNFPA, National Planning Authority and National Population Council reveals that the government will spend $74.8 million on teenage mothers and their babies for antenatal, delivery, postnatal, and post abortion care services, not to mention fistula repair.
Mr Joost van Ettro, the deputy ambassador, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the other European Union member states say increased occurrence of teenage pregnancy and child marriage is one of the problems Uganda is confronted with following the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Museveni has always emphasised that poverty eradication and social transformation is key in addressing many of the problems facing people in Uganda including teenage pregnancy and early marriage. According to the President, mindset change is key for wealth creation and is a factor for ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda and promoting government’s development and socio-economic transformation priorities.
Mr Museveni also says all girls should be in school learning a skill that they can utilise to gain income. He adds that those that have already had babies should be given a chance to gain skills that can empower them towards earning income so that they are not stuck in the subsistence economy.
The director for Family Health Department, National Population Council (NPC) in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Dr Betty Kyadondo, says about 47 percent of the teenage mothers are peasants in subsistence agriculture.
In December last year, Uganda launched a campaign around prevention of teenage pregnancy and child marriages dubbed “Protect the girl, Save the Nation.” It is spearheaded by the First Lady and Minister of Education Janet Museveni, Vice President Jessica Alupo and Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.
The campaign calls on all the stakeholders and communities to take action to protect the girl child, and to empower them with information, knowledge and skills to enable them make informed decisions and choices to delay child bearing and build their potential.