Reports that thousands of our teenage schoolgirls across the country won’t return to school as the institutions reopen after one year is distressing.
The girls either got pregnant or were married off during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown (Daily Monitor, March 2). Lamentably, reports of numbers of these girl-child pregnancies and marriages are both widespread and not slowing down.
But what plan B has the government got for these young generation of child mothers?
Will those little girls eager to continue with education after this misadventure be helped to sit supplementary exams or be supported to pick up the pieces and soldier on to pursue their aspirations through education?
Deplorably, there seems no concrete steps from the key stakeholders to stop these teenage pregnancies and child marriages. Yet, there’s an urgent need to save our young girls from these mishaps and ensure these girls be girls first.
While the lockdown could have worsened the cases of pregnancies, as early as 2011, the Uganda Demographic Health and Survey (UDHS), was already warning that one in four Ugandan girls between 15 and 19 years have either had a child or are pregnant.
With this foreknowledge and with the coronavirus lockdown forcing girls out of school and learning environments, the ministries of Health and Education should have acted otherwise or done better.
Both should have strengthened and pushed the ‘Let girls be girls’ campaign, launched by the Ministry of Health in Buteleja District in July 2014. This 12-month push to prevent teenage pregnancies demanded Ugandans join then Primary Healthcare state minister Sarah Opendi to end the practice.
This awareness drive required parents, young girls and teenage mothers to attend health units on unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancies, and family planning services. This would have helped our little girls to have information on their hands and discuss risks and complications young girls would be exposed to.
We should all be weary since early teenage pregnancies radically change and endanger our girls’ rights to health, education and realising their full potential and contribution to society. Besides, the UNFPA State of World Population report for 2013 warned that adolescent pregnancy damages girls’ education, health and job opportunities.
No less, these girls who are caught up in teenage pregnancies often opt for abortion and when they cannot afford it, they sometimes die at birth. And when they do not die it is a child who has another child.
In sum, let’s protect our young girls’ human rights and wellbeing and keep them longer at school.
Indeed, our young girls can best develop their full potential when their chances are promoted and not robbed by teenage pregnancies and being married off.