Number of school dropouts likely to increase due to teenage pregnancies
Kampala, Uganda | PATRICIA AKANKWATSA | The Ministry of Education and Sports has yet to announce the dates for schools to re-open again after being shut down at the height of the Second wave of COVID-19. But the delay is amplifying fear that more school girls will get sexually molested, many will become pregnant, and most teenage mothers will not go back to school.
Jackson Chekweko, the Executive Director of Reproductive Health Uganda, says that the most immediate issue related with teenage pregnancy is dropping out of school permanently.
“Approximately 15-20% of dropouts for girls in secondary school are triggered by teenage pregnancy,” he says.
Girls who fall pregnant often drop out of school even if the government guidance gives them a window to return to school. The guidance requires a girl to withdraw from school when they are three months pregnant and return six months after giving birth. But only 8% of the girls return, according to data from the Ministry of education and sports. Chekweko says that with all these high number of girls out of school, the rates of child marriage may also increase yet they had been reduced.With the pandemic, it is feared this situation could worsen.
“Many of them struggle to return to school at all due to barriers like social stigma, lack of childcare or financial support,” says Musa Mugoya, the programme officer at the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER).
The most recent data from theUganda Demographic Health Survey(UDHS) 2016 indicates a slight increase with an estimated teenage pregnancy rate at 25% from 24% in 2011. This rate is considered one of the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. In rural areas of Uganda; the teenage pregnancy rate is even higher with 27% of girls, age 15-19 years having begun childbearing.These rates are worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and closure of schools.
Many of these pregnancies are as a result of defilement. According to the Police report crime report14,134 cases of defilement were reported in 2020 compared to 13,613 cases reported in 2019, giving an increase of 3.8%.
Children Survey by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social development (2017) established that sexual violence against girls is high at 35% and nearly half of girls experienced sexual violence before the age of 16 years.
Martin Kizza, the Executive Director of the National Children Authority, says the high sexual offences committed against children throughout the country during lockdown primarily resulted from parental negligence.
He said the lockdown kept children and the perpetrators under the same roof and the same community for long but parents and caregivers did not provide the children with maximum attention and support.
Dr Justin Nabwire, the assistant commissioner for the adolescent health at the Ministry of Health,says that there has been a big gap between parents and children which limits them from having a productive conversation around their health.
Ending teenage pregnancies
James Tumusiime the Executive Director, Reach a Hand Uganda one of our focus areas should be on increasing access to Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) information and services among adolescents.
“With adequate information about SRH, pregnancy and its negativities among younger women, they would know how to protect themselves and avoid pregnancy in the first place or other diseases like HIV/AIDS, where possible, “ he says.
Chekweko says that that there should be increased awareness and community sensitization on dangers of teenage pregnancies follow up on cases, guidance and counseling, and establishment of rehabilitation centers for girls where they could be given counselling.
Dr. Nabwire says that boys should be involved in this teenage pregnancy talk as well.
“We all agree that we have been talking about girls, but it takes two to get pregnant. Beyond talking to and about the girls, it’s high time we bring men and boys on board.”
Maria Bukirwa, the communications officer at the Women’s Probono Initiative, says that although the government has tried to mitigate teenage pregnancies, the guidelines that the government had made were structured for the school setting.
“But what do we do, now that the students are at home? The government needs to look at it from an angle of being proactive and not reactionary,” she adds.
She adds that age-appropriate adolescent health information is not teaching young people how to have sex.
“We already know that young people are indulging in sexual activities. It is, therefore, the role of families to provide young people with age-appropriate information,”
Tumusiime says that parents are fond of being too busy in the name of trying to make ends meet.
“While we do this, our children are getting pregnant, doing drugs, and losing track. Parents are the first teachers, and what we do is the first lesson our children take in.”
He also advises parents to accept children back even when mistakes are done.
“ If a girl falls pregnant, that’s a mistake ,take back this girl to school and give them a second chance in life. We have done mistakes but don’t be prisoners of your past mistakes,” he says.