When I meet Sumaiah Najjumba at her home in Kapisa Village, Mazimasa Sub-county in Butaleja District, she is washing a saucepan to prepare meals for her family. She has just finished breastfeeding her daughter, who is just three weeks old.
It is a humble homestead, composed of a number of grass-thatched houses; with chicken, ducks, goats, naked and half naked children loitering around.
How it all began
When Najjumba was 12 years old and a pupil at Manafwa Primary School, she met a man, who gave her Shs10,000 and impregnated her. This, however, did not go down well with her parents, who chased her away from home as she was still schooling. It was until she asked for forgiveness that she was given a second chance. When she conceived, her parents became angry and stopped buying her scholastic materials.
Her situation worsened after the man, who got her pregnant went on the run before she could give birth the following year when she turned 13. This, according to Najjumba meant that she was on her own. She had to fend for herself.
“I never used to go for antenatal care because I did not have the transport fare. When it came to giving birth, I delivered the baby at home, with the support of my mother, who was always bitter. I had to bear it all because I did not have a choice,” she recalls.
One month after giving birth to her first child, a girl, Najjumba got married to another man, who was approximately 30, with whom she had her second child and a set of twins.
“He came home and met my parents. He had two other wives and had constructed a house for each of them. He always gave me money and promised to take care of me if I accepted to get married to him. When I reached his home, it was a different story. He had other children from his other wives,” Najjumba recalls. “I thought to myself that hopping from one man to another was not taking me anywhere and decided to settle down. My husband is poor but we grow food to take care of our children,” she adds.
Najjumba’s children are aged 15, 13, 12, 10 and five respectively.
Her daughter’s story
Aisha Nakiwanuka, Najjumba’s first born also conceived when she was 13. When I meet her at her home in Namukukura Village, Kachonga Parish, Naweyo Sub-county in Butaleja District, she is carrying her eight month old daughter. It is approximately 10 kilometres away from where her mother stays.
When she sees her mother disembarking from the car in which I travelled from her place, she is all joyous as she runs towards the mother. It is evident that the two had not met in a long time as they spend a couple of minutes embracing.
“I was 13 when I got pregnant. I was in Primary Six then. When the father of my child found out that my parents knew about the pregnancy, he ran away and left me to take care of myself. I stayed with my grandmother until I gave birth,” Nakiwanuka, now 15, recalls.
She adds; “When my mother got to know about the pregnancy, she wanted to beat me up but I stood my ground and told her I did not have anything to keep me busy because she had not been providing school materials.”
Close to one year after having her first child, just as Nakiwanuka was about to turn 14, she met a new partner, who fathered her eight-month-old baby girl.
“There were some rice farmers, who told me that they knew of a young man they wanted me to get married to. I used to see him but we had never had a chance to talk. One day, we met during the presidential campaign rally at Nampologoma Grounds when President Museveni was campaigning in our area,” Nakiwanuka says, adding that she saw no reason to return to her grandmother’s place when the campaign rally ended.
When she moved in with her current partner, a one Steven Werikhe, he took her back to school for Primary Five and Six. During this time, he provided her with all the school requirements even though she had had a child.
“In second term of Primary Six, he asked me how he was to benefit from paying my school fees and buying me sanitary towels whenever I went into menstrual periods. I got pregnant with his child and that is how my schooling ended,” Nakiwanuka says.
Her worry is that her partner relates with other girls, who sometimes abuse her on the village path.
Nakiwanuka’s first born is two years old. In 2013, Uganda was ranked 16 out of 25 countries with the highest rates of early marriages, (World Vision, 2013).
Saving girls from early marriage
Betty Nesihwe, the programme coordinator with African Women’s Service Trust (AWOST), says in Butaleja, child marriage is mainly driven by poverty among most families.
“If someone has a daughter and there is an opportunity of exchanging her for a cow or calf, they just use it to see off the girl in marriage for material gains. When rice farmers harvest and sell off the rice, they see school as a waste of time and look for young girls to marry,” Nesihwe says.
AWOST is an organisation that is part of the Girls Not Brides (GNB) global alliance and partners with Ugandan organisations such as Joy for Children Uganda to end child marriage.
According to the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy 2014/2015 to 2019/2020 that was launched in June 2015, the rate of child marriage in Butaleja is approximately 52 per cent.