Thursday March 27 2014

Empower adolescents to curb early pregnancy

By Dorman Ahumuza

Uganda’s population growth rate is at 3.2 per cent with a fertility rate of 6.7 (Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2006) children for every woman in reproductive age. Current figures estimate the population at 33 million and it is projected to rise to 104 million people by 2050. Thus, in 40 years, the health system will have to cater for an additional 70 million people.

The youth in Uganda account for 78 per cent of the population and 37 per cent are female youth according to the world population report 2010. It is estimated that 20 per cent of young women aged 20-24 in Uganda begin to engage in sex as early as 12 years!

Engaging in sexual activities at this stage is very risky as it exposes adolescents to early pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual violence. Many young girls thus resort to crude methods to get rid of unwanted pregnancies thus a high prevalence of illegal abortions that, sometimes, end up in deaths.

It is worth mentioning that most young people cannot protect themselves because they lack information on where to go for adolescent sexual reproductive healthcare, and the majority are not empowered to negotiate for safe sex with their partners.

In addition, sexual and reproductive health programmes tend to ignore the social, cultural and economic factors that prevent young people from making healthy decisions and that contribute to their vulnerability to poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes, exposure to HIV, sexual violence and undesired or unsafe pregnancy.

In light of the above statistical background, we need to invest heavily in adolescents’ sexual reproductive health. Taking a look at the Uganda national budget, adolescent reproductive health is majorly funded by donors. In addition, adolescents’ reproductive health should be fully integrated into the government sectors of education, and justice because it is a cross-cutting issue.

It is vital to involve the young people in providing information to break the silence about sexual coercion and violence, stepping up the fight against female genital mutilation and preventing early pregnancy. It is only when the reproductive health of young girls is prioritised that we will begin to see transformation in the lives of the young women in this country.