As Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence (GBV), this week in Parliament, lawmakers called on government to reform laws that perpetuate the vice.
The Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, who presided over last week’s parliamentary business, in effort to end human trafficking, took a bold step by calling on government to ban exportation of domestic workers to the Middle East.
Ms Kadaga told Parliament that the domestic workers who are exported abroad are turned into sex slaves and subjected to casual employments as she demanded that government picks lessons from African countries such as Ethiopia and Philippines that have banned it.
Her submission prompted a quick response from State minister of Labour and Industrial Relations Mwesigwa Rukutana who announced that government had revised regulations regarding labour externalisation and would soon bring them to Parliament.
Gender-based violence is on the rise and whereas government passed the Domestic Violence Act four years ago, it has not been implemented.
The 16 Days of Activism against GBV that run from November 25 to December 10, are observed globally and dedicated to taking stock of the progress made by governments in addressing GBV and to raise awareness through various messages on the need to address GBV as a human rights issue.
The campaign is also held to influence behavioural change and secure high level political commitment to end gender-based violence. It draws actors such as the church, civil society, the government and development partners to speak out for increased attention to the prevalence of domestic violence prevention.
Its remembrance kicked off 20 years ago when the first women’s global leadership institute came up with the international campaign on the 16 Days of Activism against GBV.
The Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) and key stakeholders headed by the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention last week stepped up awareness about GBV and called on government to implement gender sensitive laws as a way of combating violence.
And according to a study conducted by UWOPA in 15 districts countrywide, local leaders and the communities are ignorant about the Domestic Violence Act since it has not been implemented.
This year’s theme, “Act Now, Stop Teenage Pregnancy, Child and Forced Marriages,” rotates around stopping teenage pregnancies that are on the rise.
Minister Rukutana, who presented a ministerial statement in Parliament on behalf of the Gender minister Karooro Okurut, observed that teenage pregnancies contribute to increased mortality rate which currently stands at 435 deaths per 100,000 live births as per the 2011 Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
He said 57per cent of girls get married before the consent age of 18. Statistics from 2000 to 2010 indicate that child marriages remain high with 12 per cent married at age 15 and 46 per cent by age 18.
Uganda ranks high on the rate of teenage pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa at 25 per cent.
The Population Secretariat records indicate that of the 1.2 million pregnancies recorded in Uganda annually, 25 per cent of these are teenage pregnancies.
These more than 300,000 teenagers who get pregnant also account for the bulk of unwanted pregnancies, which end up in unintended births or abortion.
According to the Uganda Demographic Health survey 2011, about 14 per cent of young women and 16 per cent of young men had their first sexual encounter before the age of 15 while 57 per cent of young women had their first encounter before the age of 18.
Mubende District is said to be among the districts with a high number of teenage mothers with nearly one in every three households recording a teen that has got pregnant or has had a child
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, one in every four teenage girls between 15 and 19 was found pregnant.
While MPs called on government to implement gender related laws, West Budama North MP Fox Odoi announced he had kick started a controversial debate on the unborn child’s right to life by calling on Parliament to legalise abortion.
His argument was that this is the only way to curb the increasing teenage maternal deaths. “You continue to lose lives because you choose to keep this law. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand. You cannot stop teenagers from having sex,” he said.
“Please legalise abortion because these young girls are dying from unsafe abortion because they know they are doing something illegal. There’s no way a child can be allowed to have a child.”
Some MPs, however, disregarded his statement on moral grounds.
Moving forward, MPs must push for the implementation of a policy on girls’ retention in schools during and after pregnancies. The schools must deviate from expelling pregnant girls from schools to help them secure a future.
Government must avail funds for the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.
Parliament also passed the Public Finance Bill that, among others, provides that the collections and deposit of petroleum revenues due to the government, including penalties for late payments, shall be put in a petroleum fund and administered and overseen by the Uganda Revenue Authority.
In Parliament still, the NRM secretary general, currently on forced leave, indicated he will be attending the highly anticipated ruling party’s national delegates’ conference.
Mr Amama Mbabazi, who was dropped as prime minister in September amid claims he is plotting to stand against President Museveni, confirmed his attendance when a group of journalists confronted him at Parliament.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor