Sarah Biira is a 19-year-old secondary school student. Clad in a blue skirt and white blouse, she heads to Maliba Secondary School in Kasese District.
However beyond the self-assured smile on Biira’s face, is a story that not many girls in Kasese are able to overcome.
Biira was married off when she was only 13-years-old. “I was in Senior Two when I became pregnant, the man was 25-years-old,” Biira narrates.
“My parents decided since I was pregnant, they would not take care of me. When I asked them where they expected me to go, they said “go look for that man who is responsible”.
Biira was lucky the man, a primary school teacher, accepted responsibility. She went on to live with him and her in-laws in one house where she experienced violence.
“He wanted to pay my father a fine but my parents refused his money saying it was not right.”
In many cases in Kasese, when a girl is defiled, the man responsible pays a fine that is supposed to repay the money ‘wasted’ on the impregnated teenager. Most often after the fine, the girls are married off no matter what age.
Biira’s parents gave her husband one condition, to take her back to school. “They said take your money and take your woman but we want her back in school.”
Biira’s husband agreed to pay her school fees but only when she had given birth to a second child because “he said he wasn’t sure I would return to him after going through school.”
Biira was determined to go back to school. “I told him if it meant having another child with him, I would but I needed to go to school.”
So at 16, Biira had her second child and after that went back to school.
She has two sons who stay with their father and the first born, now six-years-old, also goes to school.
However Biira’s life is a struggle and many times her parents pay the bigger part of the fees.
She lives in a hostel and only sees her husband and children during holidays.
“I am not the only girl who has children at school, we are many but we face a lot of stigma both at school and from the community,” she says.
But the teenager says she knows what difference education will make to her and the children and that stigma will not deter her.
According to new study by Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE), many girls in Kasese are married off between 12 and 17 years old.
The study, carried out in Bukonzo East and Busongora North, involved 304 respondents (291 girls and 13 boys).