What you need to know:
- The district health officials say records extracted from several health facilities reveal 3,183 teenage pregnancies, out of which only 1,619 deliveries were recorded, writes Opio Sam Caleb.
Janet, 16, who is three months pregnant, failed to report back to school on Monday. But on Wednesday, she dragged herself to Kiige Primary School in Kamuli after community counsellors from International Development Institute Uganda, a Korean NGO, talked to her for two days.
“I am embarrassed but I can’t even think of abortion after one of our classmates died during an abortion mission. Therefore, my plan is to carry the pregnancy, deliver and continue with studies. However, I would prefer joining a hairdressing school now but I have nobody to pay my tuition,” she says.
Charity 14, who was in Primary Five before the Covid-19-induced lockdown, delivered a baby girl by cesarean section two days to the school reopening.
She says she prays for quick healing as she cannot wait to come back to school to complete her studies.
“This was a mistake so I want to come back, get a certificate and join a vocational institute so that I become self-employed,” she says.
Both Nabirye and Namisiki are said to have been impregnated by sugarcane cutters during the lockdown, who have since returned to their villages and cannot be traced.
They join many girls who got pregnant during the lockdown and are being counselled to return to school.
Mr Herbert Ntende, the deputy head teacher of Kiige Primary School, says they have discovered that 13 of their pupils got pregnant during the lockdown. Four of the girls have since delivered, two of whom gave birth to twins.
In 2020, Kamuli District registered an enrolment of 112,954 pupils in primary schools (56,963 girls and 55,991 boys) and recorded 6,000 teenage pregnancies.
The Kamuli assistant District Health Officer in-charge of maternal and child health, Mr Moses Lyagoba, says between August 2020 and January 2021, records extracted from several health facilities revealed 3,183 teenage pregnancies, out of which only 1,619 deliveries were recorded.
At least 400 prenatal deaths were recorded, meaning the rest either aborted, miscarried or delivered from home under unqualified staff.
From March 2020 upto early this month, Kamuli Mission Hospital has registered 798 cases of teenage pregnancies and 216 deliveries, with the youngest mother being nine years old.
“We need to intensify adolescent sexual reproductive health rights to reduce their exposure to risky situations,” Mr Lyagoba advocated.
Child marriage and teenage pregnancies remain a huge and unquantifiable human rights violation in Uganda, mostly attributed to the negative effects that come along with poor parenting, rigid patriarchal cultural norms and gender inequalities, high illiteracy levels and lack of family planning.
Mr Lyagoba urges parents to practice family planning, scaling up of teenage counselling and creation of youth friendly corners at health units.
“These teenage mothers need rehabilitation, sexual and reproductive health skills. They need assurance that pregnancy is not the end of their world. They should be encouraged to give birth from health facilities where they will be taken through safe motherhood and encouraged to get back to school to support their children,” Mr Lyagoba says.
Mr Micah Lopita, a consultant gynaecologist, says he fears that these teenage pregnancies, child marriages and defilement cases expose the young girls to gynaecological complications and puts their lives at greater health risks.
Mr Lopita says these young mothers are physically and mentally immature to handle parenting duties. And because of the fear of being rejected and traumatised, they live in denial and opt for wrong ways of getting rid of the pregnancies.
“Because of fear and shock of reality, these young mothers take wrong advice, follow wrong health paths and in trying to hide the reality, go to people who are not qualified, thereby ending up with complications such as fistula and producing stunted children due to poor feeding,” Mr Lopita says.
He advocates for children counsellors, sex education and family planning.
While launching the Demography and Reproductive Health Network Uganda (DRHNU) activities in Busoga Sub-region at Namwendwa Sub-county headquarters in Kamuli District early this year, Ms Betty Kyadondo, the director of child health at the National Population Council, pointed out that with the closure of schools, many learners got pregnant, found odd jobs and are overgrown. She advocated psychosocial support in the form of counselling. She also called on schools to put in place spaces to support pregnant girls or young mothers to settle comfortably into the school system.
“Handling learners, especially those who got pregnant, is going to be difficult. There is going to be stigma from their fellow learners. On the other hand, the teachers are going to feel offended teaching children who are mothers because ideally, the learning environment has not supported the return of such girls to school,” Ms Kyadondo said.
She called upon parents and communities to give girls a second chance to live productive lives. She urged parents tp protect, support, prepare and encourage them to return to schools.
“…and you the girls, use the opportunity well, remain focused and never lose hope but learn from the past mistakes by getting focused,” she said.
Mr Joseph Waibi, the Kamuli District education officer, pointed out that these teenage mothers need a lot of guidance and counselling as they find themselves stigmatised and rejected – often by their immediate family.
He blamed rampant teenage pregnancies on laxity by parents, who he said allow their daughters to roam.
“Children, especially the girl child, should be monitored, supervised and keenly watched. They should not be left to roam around or sent to live with careless relatives,” he said.
A 2020 report released by Marie Stopes Uganda indicated that young girls, especially in rural areas, experienced challenges accessing family planning and health facilities during the lockdown.
Ms Faith Kyateka, the head of communications at Marie Stopes Uganda, described the teenage pregnancies in Busoga sub-region as “worrying” and called for collective intervention by stakeholders.
“A number of behavioural barriers for adolescent family planning uptake were identified and even when the services are available, lack of prompts to make decisions about family planning outweigh family planning health risks compared to unplanned pregnancies,” she said.
Ms Kyateka was speaking in Jinja City during a training workshop for journalists on how to report health stories.
According to the report, during the lockdown, adolescents faced transport challenges, and while out of school, they lacked information on sexual reproductive health rights that their parents could not openly share with them.
It was further reported that adolescents had the highest rate of frequently unsafe abortions and that of the 2.5 million adolescent girls in Uganda, 26 percent were sexually active and did not want a child.
Mr Samuel Balamaga, the Marie Stopes Uganda youth, and key population manager, said the state of unsafe abortions in Uganda was very high, with 314,000 abortions annually.
“It is higher than the estimated rate for the East African region, representative of 34 percent of women aged between 15 and 19 years, while 5,000 deaths occur annually due to unsafe abortions,” he said.
According to the Unicef database 2020 report, 1.3 million girls globally marry before attaining the age of 15 years.