We need to support teenage mothers

Augustine Bahemuka

What you need to know:

  • I find it unfair and unjust to condemn teenage mothers with little or no consideration of the men responsible. Where are they? Who are they?

We are into the second week of school re-opening after an unenviable protracted closure as a measure to curb spread of Covid-19.

As expected, difficulties and challenges were inevitable for all stakeholders: government, parents, school owners, suppliers and the learners themselves.

One such challenge, even when it became apparent much earlier in the lockdown, was the issue of dealing with teenage pregnancy and motherhood.

On their part, government directed that all learners, including teenage pregnant and lactating mothers, should be allowed back into school. However, this was not to be as imagined and done as easily said, especially in the confines of our chauvinistic society.

The contentious debates that followed the tough position taken by Rt. Rev. James Williams Ssebaggala, Bishop of Mukono Diocese last week are a vivid reflection of the complex situation. The Prelate argues that having pregnant and lactating teenage learners in schools is more political than practical, and morally degrading. Here is why I think differently.

One, this conversation needs to be guided by empathy. We need to be sensitive to the trauma experienced by most teen mothers and pregnant teenagers because many of them are victims of sexual abuse perpetuated by the very men that they trusted, including fathers, uncles and close family friends.

It therefore becomes a case of double-victimization to deny these young victims of sexual abuse and betrayal an opportunity to resume their education, provided they are willing and their health conditions permit them. Two, I find it unfair and unjust to condemn teenage mothers and pregnant teens with little or no consideration of the men responsible. Where are they? Who are they?

They are probably going about their own businesses and yet the future of these young girls and their babies hangs in balance. In this case, how different are we from the men told in the Good Book when they presented a woman caught in adultery to Jesus for condemnation (John 8:1-11)? Just like the sin of adultery in the eyes of the poor woman’s accusers, teenage pregnancy takes two to tango.

Teenage pregnant and lactating learners pose a challenge to us which we need to handle with empathy, not hypocrisy, and support the victims while condemning sexual abuse and teenage sex to avoid such problems in the future. Teenage pregnancy should not be perceived as a life-sentence for these young girls. Many are already victims of abuse, stigma, family rejection, and etcetera.

How then can we address the concerns and fears cited by the Prelate? I am a firm proponent of community initiatives and believe in the ability of ordinary individuals finding solutions to problems that affect our society. I will cite two examples of such initiatives that can have addressed similar fears as those of Bishop Ssebaggala. This newspaper reported the approach adopted by the authorities of Amuru district which involves forming school clubs, comprised of teenage pregnant and lactating mothers, and selected learners.

Through these clubs, the district leadership is hopeful that they can protect pregnant learners from stigma, decampaign teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse; and also urge other affected learners to resume schooling.

Such clubs would also make it easier for members to access both antenatal and postnatal care, and pyscho-social support and counselling services. Another worthwhile example is a school in Kenya. Serene Haven Girls’ School located in Nyeri County adjusted and designed programs tailored to the academic, psychological, health and maternal needs of teenage pregnant and lactating learners.

For instance, learners take short lactation breaks to breastfeed and bond with their babies during the course of the day. Such initiatives offer the support and safety required by teenage mothers and also ignite positive thinking in their lives. Let us remember that one teenage mother supported is a life of a child protected.

Mr Augustine Bahemuka is a commentator on issues of peace and society.


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