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Teen pregnancies likely to rise during lock-down

The Ugandan lockdown is likely to end with many teenage pregnancies

Lock-down Diary: Day 12, Easter

COMMENT | Primah Kwagala | It is Easter Sunday and there was no church or the hullaballoo of Kampalans running up and about in their Sunday best to fill churches. Not many people have made a fuss about not being able to do that on social media either. Some one has called it a ‘scientific Easter Sunday’. The longest holiday each year is seemingly going unnoticed.

Over the past few days I was thinking about teenagers. How are they copying? I have read of numerous accounts of parents trying to keep them occupied as they struggle through the unending boredom. For those that are in slums, many a time have no option but to build friendships with neighbors.

Does any one think about youths in army barracks, refugee camps, shelters and prisons?

I have a friend who once shared a story growing up with a mother in an army barracks outside Kampala. This friend confided that they barely had enough to eat, slept in small spaces (uni-ports) and often heard their parents have sex!

This family’s girls got married by the age of 15. My friend accounts that it was often uncomfortable hearing their parents do this and more times than not witnessed the activity but every one in the house carried themselves as if they had no idea what was going on.

Girls in these settlements are given no sex education save for what they witness from their parents and the community forced onto them on a daily basis.

My friend’s wish is for sex education and parenting guidance and support to be extended into these establishments. There’s an unknown often an assumption that people in these establishments are protected. I mean come to think about it – army barracks have serious security, the same applies to camps occupied by refugees. It is not clear to us who live on the outside what goes on in there.

Today, thoughts of those young people tangled through my mind. I figured many are probably engaging in sexual activity to pass time.

Many will need contraceptives but our systems do not allow them to access the same if they’re under 18. Many will conceive and some 24% of those pregnancies are predicted to end in unsafe abortions. Please note that over the past ten years, Uganda has failed to bring down the magnitude of teenage pregnancies. They have been stagnant at 25% each year, the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I wish to advise schools to be lenient. If a young girl is found pregnant, please offer counseling and supportive services to enable her finish school.

Teenage pregnancies are attributed to social-cultural barriers, including poverty of families (for many girls sleep with men for a meal), sexual abuse by peers, relatives and criminals, inability to receive correct information and health services on how to deal with their sexuality, religious and cultural views that emphasise chastity and submissiveness on the part of girls whilst preaching dominance and autonomy on the part of boys.

Schools are expected to open by the end of the month and its until then that schools will reveal the impact of the lock-down on students who were left to parents to deal with as they deemed appropriate.

The government gave no guidance as to what children should be doing or how we should engage them in the one month of closure.

In this regard, I wish to advise schools to be lenient. If a young girl is found pregnant, please offer counseling and supportive services to enable her finish school.

The Uganda government has acknowledged that teenage pregnancies are a reality we have to deal with and as such has in place guidance for reentry and retention of girls in school who may get pregnant earlier than expected.

Rather than condemn and exorcise students who find themselves in this situation, offer them support. Pregnancy is not a crime. It should be celebrated and nurtured. Emphasis should be laid on providing correct scientific information and services to delay childbirth for young girls and boys.

Parents who take care of these children are often pressed to marry off their daughters to individuals who make them pregnant. This needn’t be the case.

If a girl was defiled (an adult having sexual inter-course with a minor), the last thing they would want is to be tied to their abuser for life.

Avoid marrying off girls before they attain the age of 18. It creates insurmountable emotional pain to be forced to live with the person that has abused you. Consider resettling these girls with another relative in a different environment to allow them time to heal. Provide supportive services such as counseling and seek the help of a professional health service provider to prevent early and unintended pregnancy and get medication to rule out HIV/AIDs transmission.

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Primah Kwagala is a Health rights lawyer, @AspenNewVoices fellow 2018, CEO @womenprobono

 

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