Report that at least 4,900 children were defiled and made pregnant in Apac and Kwania districts in only two years is depressing. Some of these girls were reported as young as only 12 years, with the oldest being 17. Worse, the researchers, Communication for Development Foundation Uganda, say some 12 of the culprits were not punished because some families favoured dowry and marriages.
This escalation should be stopped because it is not restricted to Apac and Kwania. The same report indicates that Northern Uganda alone has 145 of every 1,000 girls made pregnant, while six in every 10 of these young girls are also married off before turning 18. These two ills expose underage mothers and their babies to health and social risks, including deaths, and fistula, which results from prolonged and obstructed labour. This is because at such tender age, these little girls’ bodies are not developed enough to become mothers. This is not any acceptable at the national level because our maternal deaths ratio stands at 438 per 100,000 live births. Yet 24 per cent of these deaths are blamed on teenage pregnancies.
Given these disturbing numbers, these districts and the entire country should revisit and aggressively promote the Ministry of Health’s campaign dubbed ‘Let girls be girls,’ launched in Buteleja District in July 2014. This campaign would cut down teenage pregnancies. This would demand that parents and the young girls attend health outreaches on unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancies, and other family planning services.
In this way, we can help young girls stay longer in school, complete tertiary education, and encourage them to avoid and delay childbearing until they are at least 20 years and ready to cope with stress of pregnancies and rigours of child birth.
These measures would, no doubt, go a long way in saving the future of these young girls and their children because teenage pregnancies radically change and endanger girls’ rights to health, education and chances of developing their full potential and contribution to society.
But these measures can only work when we involve every stakeholder from probation officers, local government, religious, cultural, and political leaders. All should step in, not to frustrate, but bolster efforts in prosecuting male culprits who rob our little girls of their childhood as well as future through early teenage pregnancies.
Together, we should protect young girls’ rights and wellbeing. We, surely, can do this by keeping girls longer at school and stop motherhood in childhood.