Local leaders and human rights activists in Bukedi Sub-region have expressed concern over the increasing levels of child marriages, especially in rural communities.
The leaders say the vice is being fuelled by the worsening economic distress caused by the restrictions imposed by the government in a bid to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Sam Mulomi, the district chairperson, said many parents send their daughters into marriage in exchange for cows and goats.
"Majority of the parents are marrying off their school-going girls because of economic hardships. This has become a habit and it has increased levels of child marriages," Mr Mulomi said.
President Museveni ordered the closure of all institutions of learning on June 7 for 42 days as part of the measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
The President said a total of 948 cases of coronavirus had been registered by then in 43 schools from 22 districts.
Mr Mulomi said the government should provide financial relief to the poor families if it is to reverse the vice.
"When there is a girl within the family, people will present the number of cows but the parent will refuse if he has some money, so this calls for government intervention," he said.
Dr Elisa Mulwani, the district health officer, said child marriages currently constitute about 20 per cent in the district. "Majority of these mothers who seek antenatal services are young girls, who have been married off by their parents," he said.
Dr Mulwani said they have set up counselling services at health facilities to sensitise parents and youth on the dangers of early marriages and teenage pregnancies.
According to district statistics released last year, nearly 1,833 girls, mostly pupils, were impregnated and some married off in three months.
The figures were contained in a data presented by the district biostatistician, Mr Ali Mugerwa, during a dialogue organised by National Association of Women Organisation of Uganda.
Mr Mugerwa said most of the affected girls are aged between 10 and 19 years, and the culprits are mostly close family members.
"Most of the cases were as a result of defilement by close family members and victims are aged below 19 years," he said.
Mr Amos Mageni, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the government can only succeed in fighting child marriages if it addresses abject poverty.
"There is a need to address the issue of poverty, which is still too high, standing at 43 per cent in the sub-region. This is the only medication to child marriages, domestic violence and teenage pregnancies," he said.
Mr Mageni said it is unfortunate that the coronavirus pandemic is reversing years of progress towards keeping a girl child in school.
"The government had made several strides in ending child marriages but such strides are being reversed now," he said.
The district senior probation officer, Ms Juliana Muganzi, said they have stepped up efforts to prevent child marriages.
"We also urge women and girls being subjected to such abuses to expose the perpetrators so that they can be arrested," Ms Muganzi said.
Ms Sarah Obore, the coordinator of Mifumi, an NGO working mainly in Tororo and Budaka districts to end violence against women and girls, attributed the increasing child marriages to gender-based violence.
"The rate of violence against women and girls has continued to increase and it needs our collective effort," she said.
Ms Obore said the local governments should support gender responsive legislation, including the Marriage and Divorce Bill.
The regional crime intelligence officer ofNorth Bukedi, Mr John Adilu, said gender-based violence undermines human rights, social stability and security.
"As police, we carry out mass community sensitisation against the vice and also arrest the perpertrators so that we send a strong signal against GBV in communities," Mr Adilu said.
Source: The Monitor