According to a recent UNFPA report, a quarter of girls aged between 15 and 19 are already mothers or are pregnant with their first child.
The highest rate was identified in East and Central Uganda at 30.6 per cent. On top of that, 48 per cent of Ugandan girls are married by their 18th birthday. Therefore, mitigating teenage pregnancies is a key priority area for ensuring healthy lives among young people, considering the aerse effects. For example, teenage mothers are at the highest risk of dying during childbirth, having still births or losing newborn babies, as well as suffering complications and disabilities.
Abject poverty, lack of information and education for young people, and limited policies have created room for increased teenage pregnancy in Uganda. Among these, lack of information about sexual reproductive health highly stands out. By sexual reproductive health I mean a complete package where the young people are assisted to understand their sexual and reproductive health, and their rights.
We cannot rule out that some young people indulge in sex due to poor choices and judgment, but also some are forced into sexual practices. So, with relevant and timely information, young people can be assisted to make good choices such as having safe sex and delaying sex until they finish school and are ready to start families.
Despite the fact that most of the blame for teenage pregnancies is placed on girls, there is a very destructive environment such as sexual abuse and exploitation that needs to be dealt with. For example, laws and legal provisions relating to sexual violence, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation need to be implemented in full force. On FGM, a lot of work needs to be done to change the attitude of the communities where this practice persists, so they can re-imagine a future without it.
When talking about girl child protection, one cannot miss talking about defilement. In some communities, especially in rural areas, defilement is part and parcel of daily life. Girls drop out of school due to pregnancies by those known in the community, and no one dares to raise a finger, probably, due to fear. There are communities in this country which have become too complex in behavioural terms.
Such communities are characterised by defilement, illiteracy, alcoholism and related drug abuse, domestic violence, poverty and belief-related confusion. There is usually a very high sexually-transmitted disease burden in such communities because adults infect younger people who in turn infect their peers, and in the end the youngsters infect adults.
This complicates the health interventions in such communities, not to mention the financial pressure it puts on them. Often, nothing is done about defilement and teenage pregnancies because those responsible for the affected child are either compensated with small money or threatened. In other cases, corruption and negligence frustrates the efforts of those who care to do something about it. Others opt to simply marry off the girls, as if to send them away.
These girls end up being young, helpless mothers who can hardly give any productive support and guidance to their children. And if no one gives them a hand, their children, too, end up following the same path, leading to a vicious cycle of poverty, suffering, illiteracy and violence.
The surest way of solving this problem is by empowering the mothers (both young and old) with knowledge, skills and finances. They should be helped to stand on their own and support their children in a way that benefits them and also the country in the long run. This way, mothers will be able to take their children to school and guide them to become productive people.
It is also important to inform the girls and their mothers of their rights and how and where they can get help when they need it, as well as increasing male involvement. This will improve the girls’ health and consequently the health of their families and also increase the skilled workforce.
The author is the aocacy officer at Straight Talk Foundation
Source : The Observer