It is uncommon to get teenage boys to engage in a discussion about teenage pregnancies. More so, when girls get pregnant, the responsible boys are out of the picture. And, because they are not the ones who get pregnant, they are less concerned.
When a girl gets pregnant, her life takes a dramatic turn. She may drop out of school, be disowned by her family or even married off despite the age.
This is never the case for the boys responsible for the pregnancy; their studies are never hindered nor do their parents ever doubt their innocence.
Others even go ahead to deny pregnancies or even flee from their villages and schools.
This is, however, different for a group of boys at Buhimba Technical Institute (BTI) in Hoima District.
Kawooya Mugagga, 23, a second year student pursuing a National Certificate in Agriculture at the institute was inspired to counsel his female counterparts against teenage pregnancy having learnt lessons from his own experience.
“I was in my first year at the institute in 2016 when I got into a relationship with one of the girls.
She got pregnant and was suspended from school. Because her friends scorned her, she lost confidence and was always lonely until she was pushed out of school,” Mugagga recollects.
Confused about the next move and uncertain about her parents’ reaction, Mugagga’s then 18-year-old girlfriend vowed to abort the baby so she could be accepted back into the institute and society.
“I had been hesitant to take responsibility and always avoided her. I did not care about her feelings and did not mind what she went through until I learnt about her plans to have an abortion. I realised I could do something to save both her future and probably that of our baby,” he says.
In the meantime, Mugagga sought counselling from one of the girls who headed the Reproductive Health Club at the institute.
This was a club him and his counterparts always ignored doubting whether it would be helpful in any way. This club, among other activities; sensitised girls on how to avoid unplanned pregnancies by avoiding unsafe sex, prevention of STIs, and having control over temptations that could make them drop out of school.
These issues are there to help girls stay in school and not boys, he thought. But this time he realised he needed help too.
“The girls counselled and advised me to stand by my girlfriend. They also counselled me about safe sex through demonstrating the proper use of a condom, abstinence and responsibility. They also cautioned me against making the same mistake again,” he says.
After convincing his girlfriend to have the baby and return to school thereafter, Mugagga was inspired to help many other girls avoid unintended pregnancies.
He also wanted to protect his male counterparts at school from making the same mistake.
In his second year, he purposed to head the club with guidance from Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU). This would advance his ambitions to fight teenage pregnancies both at the institute and in his community. RHU is a non-government organisation that extends access to sexual reproductive health information and services especially for young people.
At the moment, Mugagga is the deputy chairperson of the reproductive health club at the institute.
In this club, Mugagga and his colleagues act as peer educators who guide and counsel their fellow peers.
In his role as a peer educator, he shares his past experience with new comers at the institute and sensitises them on how to avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections especially HIV.
Similarly, Mugagga teaches the male new comers the importance of abstinence and the proper use of condoms in case they fail to abstain.
“I have since supported my girlfriend even after she gave birth and I was able to talk to the administration to allow her return to school with our baby who is now five months. I ask my parents for money so that we can pay one of the caretakers who looks after her while we are in class,” he adds.
Mugagga is not alone, at the institute, his senior, who is the chairperson of the reproductive health club Shafik Atugonza, 19, is more passionate about counselling new students and other teenagers about unintended pregnancies.
One instance is when he picked on a female student at the school who was being discriminated by her fellow girls shortly after testing positive during the routine pregnancy check-up at the school.
“I decided to help her. I supported her during her last days at school because fortunately the school administration had agreed to let her finish her final exams. As a leader of the reproductive health club, I stood by her and cautioned her against the dangers of abortion and she accepted to carry the baby to full term,” Atugonza recollects.
Also, Atugonza uses such examples during health talks with other girls at the institute especially about the likely outcomes of not abstaining. He also cautions those who stigmatise such victims.
“The training we get from RHU as peer educators on counselling skills especially for our peers has enabled us to fight the challenge of teenage pregnancies. This same knowledge will help us to tackle this problem when we return to our communities after school,” Atugonza says.
Saved by the club
Sharon Kyosaba 17, one of the club beneficiaries says she had started missing class and dodging school until Atugonza and Mugagga sat her down and advised her against the direction she was taking.
“I had just joined the institute when a man asked me out. He told me to stop school and run a business he would set up for me. He even promised to marry me. Having received counselling from the peer educators at school, I asked for more information about him and that is when he revealed to me that he was married with children,” Kyosaba says.
At her age, she is thankful that the boys helped her realise early enough the mistake she was about to make, one she would have regretted her entire life. She had never had the chance to have such a conversation with anyone including her parents.
Akoki Anyamo, the institute’s principal acknowledges the role played by the boys at the institute saying they were stuck with the challenge of teenage pregnancies because they had no serious guidelines to censor the students. “The girls got pregnant and some would even abort which we have realised has since dropped with the help of the club... there also is an attitude change. We have since asked the students to form clubs and a member of staff to work with them.
We get one evening every week where the students meet and discuss especially their behaviours as adolescents. At the moment, the school has 50 girls out of the 130 students.
But as much as the number is increasing, we no longer have cases of teenage pregnancies,” Amanyo notes.
Current statistics by the Hoima Municipality local government indicate that the rate of adolescents (10 to 19 years) who give birth stands at 17 per cent.