Poverty, parental neglect fuel teenage pregnancy in Bugisu

Teenagers make reusable sanitary pads as part of solutions to reduce teenage pregnancy by empowering youth to be independent. PHOTO/PHOEBE MASONGOLE

What you need to know:

  • Experts call for skilling and promoting sex education in schools to curb the rising number of teen pregnancies.

Teenage mothers in Bugisu Sub-region complain of neglect by parents and men who impregnated them.

These mothers include Sarah, 17, who Monitor found trekking to Namakwekwe Health Centre III in Mbale City for antenatal check-up. 

With a baby wrapped comfortably in her arms, Sarah narrated how her life turned upside down when she got pregnant three years ago.

“I never imagined my life would take this turn. I am now a mother. I am also expecting another child soon,” she said.

Sarah added: “I was only 14 years old, in my Senior Two at school when I got pregnant with my first daughter. My parents didn’t take it well. They asked me to live with the man responsible for the pregnancy.”

However, when she informed her lover about the pregnancy, he denied responsibility. 

“The man fled to Kenya and left me alone in his parents’ home for fear of being arrested for defiling me, which was true because my father followed up and demanded compensation,” she said.

Sarah said her father was eventually given Shs1.5 million after negotiations.

“Now I am ‘married’ [to the father of her daughter],” she said.

Sarah said the affair had started as a friendship. 

“But when I asked him for help in buying pads, he demanded sex in exchange and that’s how we started the affair,” she said.

Sarah added: “We kept it a secret and he supported me with money for lunch and small gifts. Due to my naivety and ignorance of family planning methods, I got pregnant, shattering my dreams of becoming a teacher.”

Susan, a teenage mother from Buwagogo Sub-county in Manafwa District, said she dropped out of school in Primary Six and became a mother at 14 during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

She has failed to return to school because she works as casual labourer in gardens of residents to fend for herself and her child, whose father fled to Kenya after learning of her pregnancy. 

Susan said her lover has not returned to the village to check on her and their child or communicated his whereabouts to date.

Ms Specioza Nabwire, a senior midwife at Bududa General Hospital overseeing the maternity ward, described her numerous interactions with young mothers who arrive daily in need of care as heartbreaking. 

“The prevalence of teenage pregnancy is alarming and the consequences are profound, not just for the girls themselves but for their families and communities,” she said.

Ms Nabwire said many teenagers have attempted to abort or have aborted, with high risks of losing their lives. 

“Those who manage to carry the pregnancy sometimes face complications such as uterine rupture during childbirth, which can prevent them from bearing children in the future,” Ms Nabwire said.

Mr David Wekhola, the Bududa District Inspector of Schools, said poverty was among the factors fuelling teenage pregnancy.

He added that a unit at Mayiya Primary School was set up to integrate the young mothers into school as one of the ways to fight stigma.

“As a society, we should not be judgmental towards these girls for the mistakes they have made. Instead, we ought to support them so they can stay in school and reclaim their future,” he said.

Mr Wekhola also said the best way to end the surge of teenage pregnancy is by empowering both boys and girls and also promoting sex education.

“The surge is real and it won’t end if we fail to collectively fight it as a community and as a country,” he said.

Mr Benard Wasike, the executive director of Holistic Organisation to Promote Equality (HOPE) Mbale, a non-governmental organisation, cited negligence by parents. He said several parents are more focused on their work than on building working relationships with their children.

“It’s so heartbreaking that parents in our generation prioritise their jobs over their children’s needs, creating a huge knowledge gap among young people. Perpetrators exploit this gap to lure them into risky behaviours,” Mr Wasike said.

He said without proper guidance, the youth are at risk. 

“We must educate them about their bodies and how to protect themselves from harm,” Mr Wasike said.

Superintendent of Police Zainab Namuyindi, the Elgon Region liaison officer, said: “Through our sensitisation meetings in the region, we have found that many of these girls are lured by boda boda riders who offer them money for lunch. This trend has arisen because parents no longer want to provide for their daughters.” 

Mr John Rex Achilla, the former Mbale Resident City Commissioner (RCC), said the lack of sex education in both homes and schools is one of the greatest contributors to teenage pregnancies. 

“Parents’ reluctance to discuss the realities of body changes with their children has left them uninformed, leading to experimentation without an understanding of the consequences,” he said.

Ms Millicent Mataya, one of the cofounders of the organisation, said: “Many young girls lack proper direction and support from their families, which leaves them vulnerable to making poor decisions. Without parental guidance, they are more likely to fall into traps like early pregnancies and exploitation.”

“Parents play a crucial role in shaping the future of their children. They need to be actively involved in their daughters’ lives, providing the necessary counsel and support. By doing so, they can help their children navigate through challenges and make informed decisions,” she added.

Ms Edith Nandaha, a member of Mothers’ Union and a founder of the Bukonde Women Initiative, said mothers should strive to be role models to their daughters and the girl child.

“We must demonstrate strong values and behaviours that our children can emulate. We are not just doing this individually but communally. By working together, we can create a supportive environment where our daughters can learn from positive role models,” she said.

Mr Wilson Wedaira, an elder in the Inzu Ya Masaba cultural institution, said girls should be empowered with knowledge and opportunities.

“As a cultural institution, we propose the integration of sexual health education into the district’s plans because of the importance of empowering young people with the knowledge to make informed decisions,” he said. 

Mr Muhammood Wambede, the councillor representing Northern City Division in Mbale City, said engaging the young girls in hands-on skills will help to keep them busy. 

“Being idle can negatively affect the girls, leading to increased vulnerability to various risks, including early pregnancies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ms Racheal Kalende of the Great Thinkers Initiative, said they are empowering girls to become self-reliant.  

“We involve girls in pad-making, tailoring, and other skills training to ensure they have practical skills and economic opportunities, which help them to become self-reliant,” she said.

Ms Leah Nanduga, the project coordinator at HOPE Mbale, said, “Access to healthcare is crucial. We must ensure young mothers receive the support and resources they need to navigate pregnancy and motherhood safely.”

Ms Nanduga said through a project dubbed “Right Here, Right Now’’, they have started reaching out to schools. 

“We emphasise the importance of providing accurate sexual and reproductive health information to youth and equipping them with the skills to make reusable pads using locally available and affordable materials,” she said.

Current trend 

According to the UNFPA fact sheet on teenage pregnancy in 2021, nearly one in four females between the ages of 15 and 19 are affected in Bugisu Sub-region, with the highest numbers were recorded in Bulambuli and Manafwa  districts, among others.