I will never love this child and the moment I give birth, I will take it to Sanyu Babies Home,” says Sharon. She was defiled by a neighbour, who denied the allegation and no action was taken. The 16-year-old looks sad and is withdrawn. When you visit Wakisa Ministries, a charity organisation in Namirembe, Kampala, that takes care of pregnant teenage girls, you will meet many girls like Sharon, most between 13 and 16 years, who share the same predicament - pregnant in their teens as a result of defilement, rape or incest.
The pain and sense of disappointment is visible in their eyes. They walk with their hands behind their backs. Some cannot walk properly, probably due to the effects of the sexual assault. Out of the 30 girls currently at Wakisa Ministries, I managed to meet six. It was emotional as they shared their stories, occasionally tearing, no doubt an effect of the trauma they faced at the hands of their abusers.
Betty, 14, a Primary Six resident of Kyedikyo in Mubende District, who is six months pregnant, was raped by a 19-year-old neighbour as she was going to the well to fetch water.
“He asked me to have sex with him and when I rejected, he just threw me in the bush and forced himself on me. We reported to the LC1 chairperson, but he refused to give us a letter to arrest Kakooza because his family had bribed him. My mother instead reported the case to Madudu Police Station Mubende District, but he has not yet been arrested,” she narrates as tears roll down her cheeks.
“When I told my parents that our neighbour had raped me, they took me to the hospital with the intention of getting me tested for HIV/Aids, but instead I was found pregnant. I felt bad and wanted to commit suicide,” she says.
Maureen, 16, a Senior Three student and is nine months pregnant, was wooed by her 25-year-old boyfriend John*, a barber.
“He promised to marry me, buy for me land, a house and many nice things and this made me trust him,” Maureen narrates. She, however, admits her actions were voluntary so she does not want John arrested.
“I fell sick and was taken to hospital and on return, I was here, where my mother told me I was pregnant. I felt guilty because my mother had advised me but I had taken her words for granted,” she says. Maureen says she wanted to abort but did not get an opportunity.
Jane, 15, Senior One student in Mutundwe and is eight months pregnant, blames her predicament on the negligence of her mother, who she accuses of abandoning her in a rented house where she was raped by a neighbor, who disguised as a helper.
“Mum left with my young siblings, saying she would come back but she did not. The Landlord evicted me after the rent was overdue. Our neighbor, Tony,, offered me help and promised to take me to my mother, saying he knows where she is. Instead, he took me to his house and raped me at night,” Jane shares amid sobs. Tony was arrested but she doesnot know any details about his fate.
Jane feels hurt and disappointed in her mother for having ruined her future. “But I love the child I will give birth to since its part of me,” Jane says with a smile.
Mary, 16, a Senior One student from Luweero District and is seven months pregnant, says she was forced to get a boyfriend who would give her money to buy lunch, pads and other necessities because the financial circumstances at her home were not good. “My father died when I was too young and my mother cannot afford looking after me, so I was forced to stay with my uncle, whose wife denied me almost everything. This forced me to date Walugembe*, to get some money for survival,” Mary narrates. She feels rejected. “My uncle wanted to kill me and that is why I was brought here. I am afraid they may never accept me when I go back. I felt so bad because I had big dreams. I went for weeks without food so that I starve the child but in the end, I developed love for the unborn child.”
Six-months pregnant Pauline*, 16, who was in Primary Five in Mityana District, was defiled by a neighbour at the staff quarters where she stayed with an aunt, a teacher.
“He called me to his father’s house where he raped me. It was a painful experience. He denied everything and everyone, including the police, believed him but God knows the truth,” Pauline sorrowfully narrates.
Despite the solace they get from the facility, being haunted by the memories of their gruesome experiences and stigma from society continues to hound them. Their regular antenental visits to Mulago and Mengo hospitals often exposes them to the harsh realities of how society can choose to treat their kind.
“Women abuse us, saying we are the ones that cheat with their husbands and that hurts me so much. Sometimes I wish I can tell everyone what exactly happened to me,” Pauline says.
“I feel bad when women in the hospital say that they will have to operate us because we are too young,” Mary says.
However, with the support and counsel at the center, many have been able to give birth successfully.
In one of their resource rooms is a poem titled I have a dream. “I have a dream that one day in future, all little girls and little boys in this country will be great women and men,” reads part of the poem. The girls say it is one of the things that gives them hope, a thing that Kityo Vivian, the director Wakisa Ministries, points out as one of the inspirations behind the setting up of the center 10 years ago. She also remembers when a girl died in her arms after an abortion.
“I saw the girl dying slowly and that image has never left my mind, so I looked for a way to help others because I believed so many girls were going through the same,” she says. Today, the charity organisation has catered for 1,700 teenagers. They are often brought by relatives, parents or child care organisations when they are below eight months pregnant. The centre caters for antenatal care and childbirth, but discharges them to their families two weeks after giving birth. While at the centre, she reveals that they receive counseling and engage in different activities such as agriculture, paper bead work, tailoring, cookery, among others.
According to Esther Nyakwebara, a counselor at the facility, most of the girls are from broken families, especially those that have domestic violence.
“Some parents torture children and they get torn apart, hence falling prey to circumstances like rape,” she says.
Kityo, on the other hand, finds fault with parents who leave their children to caretakers like neighbours, maids and other relatives in the name of making money, especially single parents.
“Girls affected by early pregnancies are tortured physiologically. They suffer social stigma as parents lose trust in them, and they think they have lost in life so they need ample counseling. Some try to commit suicide or have abortions so they need to be counseled,” Nyakwebara says.
“ We like it at the centre because all the girls here are like us. At least we can fit in. However we all came here when we were very depressed but we always talk to a counsellor and to each other, this helps keep us strong. The different activities also keep us busy and so we are not bored,” Mary says.
Both Kityo and Nyakwebara recommend early sex education as a preventive measure.
“They should start sex education as early as five years when a child is in nursery. Tell them about bad touches and let the counseling grow gradually,” Nyakwebara advises. She also encourages parents to fight domestic violence as it psychologically tortures children. Spending time with children will also go a long way to avoid sexual exploitation.
“A child grasps whatever the parent, especially the mother, tells them. A mother’s word can never be forgotten so they should use the opportunity to teach their children early enough,” says Kityo. She plans to open branches of the organisation in different parts of Uganda. Currently they receive clients from as far as Soroti and Lira, who sometimes feel uncomfortable because of language barrier.
According to the Police Crime and Road Safety report 2013, defilement was one of the leading crimes, with 9,598 cases. The police chief, Gen Kale Kaihura, remarked that sex-related crimes, defilement in particular, are increasing, with 9,589 cases compared to 8,076 cases in 2012.
According to the report, East Kyoga region registered the highest rate of defilement, with 827 cases, while Masaka and Rwizi regions registered the highest rate of rape, with 84 cases each.
The biggest challenge was that most parents ignore legal proceedings and prefer to negotiate with the suspects of defilement for material gain.
A ministry of Gender 2013 statistics report compiled by UN Women and National Association of Women Organisations in Uganda, indicates that 4,000 children are defiled in northern Uganda annually, with the districts in Acholi region topping the list. It indicates that Agago District has one of the highest defilement rates in the region. The report indicates that 71 defilement cases were reported between April and July alone. The statistics shows that northern Uganda tops in defilement and rape cases.
A report by the population secretariat 2014, indicated that a total of 300,000 girls get pregnant prematurely every year.
According to The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), at least 21 children are defiled every day in Uganda. A research by the organisation last year shows that sexual exploitation among children is responsible for the increase in teenage pregnancies.
A survey conducted in Orom sub-county, Kitgum District in January indicated that 25 per cent of households were headed by child mothers. The survey also showed that teenage mothers were among the poorest of the poor.