UN chief urges government to reopen schools

Thursday August 13 2020
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A Primary Seven candidate from Road Primary School in Gulu revises past papers at home in Pece Vanguard village on March 29. The UN has asked government to provide safe ways of reopening schools. PHOTO | STEPHEN OKELLO

The United Nations Fund for Population activities country representative, Mr Alain Sibenaler, has asked government to provide safe ways and consider reopening of schools to address the effects the closure of institutions of learning has brought unto the girl child.

“Time is right for Uganda to look at standard operating procedures that fully respect the recommendations of the scientific taskforce but open schools probably in a phased manner so that the children have that opportunity to go back,” Mr Sibenaler said.

He was speaking at the launch of UNFPA State of the World Population Report 2020 in Kampala yesterday.
The report focuses on eliminating harmful practices against girls and women, including forced marriages, female genital mutilation, maternal mortality and gender-based violence.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing sexual abuses and exploitation of women and girls.
There are various reports of increasing forced marriages, teenage pregnancies and abuse during the lockdown, and more gross effects are looming if immediate action is not taken.

Schools have remained closed since March as a means to stem the spread of Covid-19 but unscrupulous men have taken advantage of the redundancy to prey on young school girls who are idle at home.

Impregnated
Last month, Daily Monitor reported that about 2,300 school-going girls had been impregnated and 128 married off during the lockdown.
Mr Sibenaler yesterday argued that girls are safer from these harmful practices while in school than when at home.

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President Museveni has repeatedly said government will make a decision on the future of reopening schools before next month.

The President has also reiterated in his numerous addresses that the country will prioritise the health of Ugandans above anything else.

Mr Sibenaler, however, said being out of school poses a threat to their future of learners and will have adverse socio economic consequences, such as a low standard of life for girls and exacerbated exposure to sexual violence.

Statistics released by the United Nations in April projected that about 23.8 million children and youth may drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic.

The UNFPA report launched yesterday highlights child marriages and female genital mutilation as the most predominant practices against girls in Uganda with 33,000 children globally forcibly married off annually.
The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016, says 43 per cent of women aged between 25 and 49 were married before the age of 18.

“We know from research that national and international efforts to bring an end to harmful practices have scaled back or stalled because of the pandemic. Interruptions to our efforts to end child marriages could mean an additional 13 million child marriages between now and 2030,” Mr Sibenaler said.

He asked government to intensify the fight against female genital mutilation saying the practice remains high in some areas in the country, standing at about 95 per cent among the Pokot.

Appeal
Mr Charles Zirarema, the director of Policy, Planning and Programminng at the National Population Council, said sensitisation of families and communities is vital in averting these practices.
Mr Zirarema also cited poor implementation of the law and corruption for frustrating justice for the aggrieved girls.

He said government officials such as community development officers are limited in their work by lack of funds but reiterated the commitment to addressing these issues.

Issue
Female Genital Mutilation
In 2019, more than 200 girls were forced to undergo female genital mutilation. With the current situation, more than four million girls risk facing the same this year.

ekamurungi1@ug.nationmedia.com

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