Long distances to water sources and primitive cultural practices have been blamed for the rampant teenage pregnancies in Rwenzori sub-region.
Kasese District chairperson Sibendire Bigogo on Monday said young girls trek long distances to fetch water after classes and along the way, they fall prey to men who end up defiling them.
He said teenage pregnancies and child marriages are most prevalent in Maliba, Bwesumbu, Bugoye, Munkunyu, Kitswamba, Kyabarungira, Buhuhira and Kyalhumba sub-counties in the hilly Busongora north.
“These girls are defiled but most of them do not report to authorities, including police,” Mr Bigogo said.
Daily Monitor last week visited Kitswamba Health Centre III where we found Bridget (not real name), a victim of defilement.
The mother of three said she was defiled at the age of 16 while she had gone to fetch water at the well in the evening. She was then in Primary Six and was forced to drop out of school.
Medical records at the health centre show that 17 teenage mothers aged between 12 and 19 years came for antenatal care in July. A total of 11 teenage mothers were recorded in August and 10 in September.
“This indicates that in a period of three months, 38 teenage pregnancies and subsequently, early marriages were registered in Kitswamba Sub-county alone,” Ms Angela Byangwa, the executive director of Rwenzori Anti-Corruption Coalition (RAC), an NGO, said.
In Mukunyu Sub-county, parents accused teachers of abating child marriages.
“The situation in our villages is scaring. During evening preps, most teachers and head teachers don’t wake up to monitor and supervise the children,” Mr Semu Bikasobera, a parent said. Mr George Mayinja, the district education officer, acknowledged that some teachers sexually harass girls in schools and urged head teachers to be vigilant.
The Kitswamba Sub-county vice chairperson, Ms Naume Muthanaba, said in the densely populated Railway Parish, parents share single rooms with their children.
She said due to lack of privacy, children tend to engage in sexual activities by copying from the parents.
As a result, civil society organisations have embarked on programmes aimed at empowering girls and women about the dangers of child marriage.
Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) with support from UN Women is implementing the budgeting for gender and equity project (B4GE) in Kasese, Abim and Kampala, Amuria, Gulu and Kitgum districts.
B4GE project is intended to empower women groups to demand for gender equality in budgeting. The project has been running from July and will end in December.
Six schools in Kasese have been selected as pilot to champion the war against child marriages in the district. “We [Kasese] are known in the whole country as the leader in child marriage and as leaders we decided to identify few schools which can work as samples for others in educating them on better behaviours to reduce the child marriage virus in the district,” Ms Rebbecca Kabugho, the executive director of Girl Empowerment Foundation, an NGO, said.
The selected schools are Mbunga, Kimandama, Nyakazinga, Bunyandiko primary schools and Mt Rwenzori Girls and Royal Rangers secondary schools.