Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has castigated religious leaders for presiding over marriage ceremonies involving underage couples.
Launching a campaign against teenage pregnancies in Butaleja district recently, Kadaga urged residents to shun such ceremonies but instead tip the police. The theme of the 12-month campaign is “Let girls be girls”.
Kadaga cautioned parents to be on the watch as the famous ImbaluKadodi cultural dance kicks off in August, noting that many girls drop out of school after being defiled and impregnated during such activities. The minister of state for Primary Health Care, Sarah Achieng Opendi, also speaking in Butaleja, said the “worrying” rate at which young girls got pregnant could only be curbed by keeping teenagers in school.
According to Opendi, of the 6,000 mothers who die in Uganda annually due to pregnancy-related complications, 1,440 are teenagers. The 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey showed that 24 per cent of adolescent girls get pregnant before celebrating their 19th birthday.
Opendi said such pregnancies had severe health complications such as obstructed labour, fistula, low-birth-weight babies and neonatal death. She added that 50 per cent of pregnancies in Uganda were unwanted, with the teenage pregnancy in the lead, forcing many to conduct unsafe abortions.
“It is a shame that religious leaders preside over teenage marriages attended by community leaders who are meant to implement and enforce the law,” Opendi said.
Esperance Fundira, the country representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) revealed that Uganda’s productivity, according to World Bank estimates, would be $15bn higher if teenage girls delayed pregnancy and acquired job skills before marriage. Butaleja district has, however, passed a by-law to arrest all school dropouts and their parents have to pay a fine of Shs 2,000 before signing an agreement to return the child to school.
The district LC5 chairman, Joseph Muyonjo, faulted the police for delaying investigations on defilement suspects, a factor he said denied justice for the defilement victims. The district senior education officer, Simon Sodio, said Butaleja had the highest rate of school dropouts in the country. Out of 400 pupils admitted in primary one, he said, only twenty made it to primary seven.
Speaker Kadaga also tasked Butaleja district leaders to implement the anti-pornography law to prevent cinema halls from showing pornographic films to school-age children.
Source : The Observer