On July 5th2017, SpringBoard Uganda and Uganda Youth Alliance for Family Planning and Adolescent Health (UYAFPAH) organized a half-day learning event with various civil society organizations, religious and cultural leaders attended at Imperial Royal hotel. The theme for the day was “How to reduce the accelerating rates of teenage pregnancies in Uganda".
The objectives of the event were to;
- Understand the roles of religion in addressing child and teenage pregnancy.
- Present the role of CSOs in addressing teenage pregnancy.
- Establish a working relationship with partners working on ending child and teenage pregnancies in Uganda.
- Identify and share advocacy issues that CSOs can jointly work on in a sustainable manner.
During the workshop, an insightful presentation was made on the rate of teenage pregnancy and child marriage in Uganda. It was concluded that Eastern and Karamoja regions have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy compared to other regions of Uganda due to the frightening hunger rate in the regions. Furthermore, Uganda is ranked as the 9th Hotspot of child marriage in the world.
Child marriage is a violation of Article 16(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which says “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses”.
A girl from Remnant Generation shared her story of teenage pregnancy. She narrated that Prior to the pregnancy; she lived with her step-mother who had her biological children leaving with them as well. She left in search of her biological mother who stayed with her uncle. Upon reunion, her mother was not happy to see her. She became homeless, was raped, and became pregnant. The remnant Generation now takes care of her. She calls upon all the parents, especially the fathers to look after their own children, and the mothers to support the girl child. She is grateful to the Remnant Generation.
The reason for early marriages is rooted in the traditional and social norms, poverty, bias against girl child education among others. According to UNICEF, approximately 35% of girls drop out of school because of early marriage and 23% do so because of early pregnancy (UNICEF, 2015).
In Uganda, the teenage pregnancy rate is 24% with regional variations. This increases to 34% in the poorest households. In rural areas, 24% of girls experience early pregnancy compared to 16% of wealthier households and 21% of urban girls (UNICEF, 2015).
The practice of early marriage is still prevalent in Uganda and is highly associated with lower female access to secondary education. In regions where girls are married before the legal age of 18, female secondary education is lower (OECD, 2015). This is because when a girl child drops out of school or is being denied access to secondary education due to traditions or extreme poverty, they opt for marriage as a source of wealth to the family. These resources are sometimes used for payment of school fees for the brothers/family use due to the current high rate of hunger, especially in Eastern and Karamoja regions. This limits girls’ access to secondary education because once a girl child is married off, they are vulnerable to sexual intercourse, and this primes to teenage pregnancy among girls.
Teenage pregnancy upsurges when girls are denied the right to make decisions about their sexual health and well-being. Extreme poverty, harassment, and threats of sexual violence often avert girls from attending school and causing them to be increasingly vulnerable to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).
There is a need to encourage girls to go back to school after delivery, train senior male and female teachers to provide sexuality education and counseling to students and parents because investment in the girl child is an investment in the future.
Girls must also be trained to have the aptitude to make decisions about their own bodies so that no girl is left to endure an abusive situation where she cannot thrive.
Let us not worry about what a girl will become tomorrow and forget that she is someone today.