Pains of Covid:Dad stopped paying my school fees after I became pregnant

Anita Kobugabe (not real name) with her baby at her grandmother’s home  in Fort Portal City, Kabarole District at the weekend. PHOTO | IRENE KIRABO. 

What you need to know:

  • When the country announced lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of Covid-19, the most affected were school-going children, many of them staying home for close to two years. We bring you stories of how the pandemic affected learners; some of whom have never gone back to school. In our fourth instalment of the series, Shattered Dreams, a 17-year-old shares her dilemma after her father gave up on her because she got pregnant while still at school.

At just 17 years old, Anita Kobugabe (not real name), is already a mother of a three-month-old baby. Kobugabe currently lives with her grandmother in Fort Portal City, Kabarole District.

Before the closure of schools in March 2020 due to Covid-19, she was in Senior Three at a secondary school in Fort Portal City.

However, when the President announced their reopening on January 10, Kobugabe failed to return to complete her studies because her father reportedly declined to continue paying her school fees. This is because, she says, her father was unhappy that she got pregnant before completing school.

Kobugabe says she became pregnant during the nationwide lockdown ordered by the government to curb the spread of the pandemic.

How it started

The father of her child is a boda boda rider, whom she met at her paternal grandmother’s home in Bunyangabu District.

“At first, we were just friends but after the closure of the schools due to Covid-19, my boyfriend took advantage of me being in the village all the time and he ended up impregnating me,” she says.

Carrying a pregnancy, Kobugabe says, was a very difficult and confusing time in her life because she had never thought she would get pregnant before completing school.

When she found out that she was expecting, she told her grandmother. As she was still planning how to break the news to her father, he ended up finding out. He threatened to arrest her boyfriend but he later gave up.

“My father was bitter with me but after some time, he calmed down. But since then, he has never said anything to me and he told my grandmother that if that [getting pregnant] was what I had chosen, he had no other option for me,” she said.

Kobugabe says she was lucky and she carried her pregnancy to term with no serious complications that required hospitalisation. She also received support from her friends and grandmother.

When the government announced that pregnant, as well as breast-feeding students were to go back to school after they were reopened, Kobugabe was happy, believing that she would resume school after giving birth.

When the time to give birth drew near, she shifted from the village in Bunyangabu District and went to Fort Portal City to start staying with her maternal grandmother so that she could easily access better health services.

“My maternal grandmother welcomed me and took care of me until I gave birth. She took me to Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital and continues to take care of me up to now,” she says.

Kobugabe delivered two weeks after the reopening of schools and three weeks later, she reported to school, but with no school fees.

“When I went to school, I was welcomed by both teachers and students but unfortunately, after one week, I was sent back home for lack of fees and when I told my father, he declined to pay and I never went back, up to now,” she says.

Since March, Kobugabe has been at home taking care of her baby, with little hope of resuming her studies.

She now operates her grandmother’s retail shop in Fort Portal City. She has also learnt tailoring and can now operate a sewing machine. So now in her free time, she operates a sewing machine as one way of making some money to look after her baby. However, she shares it with her grandmother.

In a day, she earns between Shs2,000 and Shs5,000 when she mends clients’ clothes but says the money is rather little. Kobugabe is, however, optimistic that in future, she will raise enough capital and start another business.

Her future dream has been to become a journalist but she says she has started losing hope since she is out of school.

“If I get a chance, I will go back to school because remaining at home all the time stresses me, especially when I see my fellow students going to school. I still have hopes though, that I can achieve my dream,” she says.

Her grandmother, Scovia Atuhaire (not real name), says she is finding it difficult to look after her and the family because she can barely make ends meet.

“Life is not easy here because we are staying in a rented house. When the month ends, the landlord needs money and we need to buy food and other basic needs, which are expensive,” she says.

Atuhaire says she would like her granddaughter to go back to school and at least complete O-Level because with that certificate, she can enrol in a technical institution. However, she is worried that this might not happen since she cannot afford to pay her school fees now.

Background

Government policy on teen pregnancy

The Ministry of Education and Sports, in December 2020, revised guidelines for the prevention and management of teenage pregnancy in schools.

The policy directs all schools to prioritise admission of pregnant and breastfeeding girls. It also provides directions to schools on how to tackle stigma, discrimination, and violence against learners who are pregnant or are parents.

“The girl should go on mandatory maternity leave when she is at least three months pregnant. If the fellow learner is responsible for the pregnancy, the boy shall also be given mandatory leave at the same time the girl goes on leave. He will only return after she has delivered,” the ministry’s new policy reads.

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