Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | At least 644,955 teenage pregnancies were recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda, according to the United Nations Population Fund-UNFPA.
Figures from the agency show that since March 2020 when COVID-19 hit the world, an estimated 354,736 teenage pregnancies were reported following the closure of all schools in the country for at least eight months. An additional 290,219 pregnancies were reported between January and September 2021.
The number of recorded pregnancies is five times higher than the number of cumulative COVID-19 positive cases that have been reported since 2020. The figures were revealed during the launch of the National Campaign to address Defilement, Child Marriage, Teenage Pregnancy and Promote Positive Parenting that took place at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds on Friday.
Some of the districts that recorded the highest number of teenage pregnancies were Wakiso with 10,439 followed by Kampala with 8,460 cases. This was followed by Kasese with 7,317 cases, Kamuli with 6,535 reported cases, and Oyam with 6,449. Other districts that recorded many cases were; Mayuge which had 6,205 and Mukono with 5,535 cases of teenage pregnancies.
Angela Nakafeero, the commissioner in charge of Gender and Women’s Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development attributed the increase of teenage pregnancies to negative social norms, beliefs and practices. Nakafeero says that during the lockdown, some cultural norms like Female Genital Mutilation that prepare girls for marriage increased since children were out of school.
The country representative of the United Nations Population Fund, Dr Mary Otieno says the COVID-19 pandemic created another pandemic that targeted girls in their homes. She says due to the pandemic, many girls have been forced to take on the responsibility of motherhood that they are not ready for.
A study carried out by the Makerere University School of Public Health in 2020 showed that the number of teenage pregnancies in the country rose by 28 percent during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
Children experts and religious leaders say that more needs to be done to address the issue of teenage pregnancies as schools prepare for the reopening in January.
Jessica Nsungwa, the Commissioner in Charge of Maternal and Child Health at the Ministry of Health says both female and male teenagers need reproductive health knowledge to be able to bring down the numbers.
“We pay a lot of attention to the girl child but the boys are left out. The boys who at times responsible for these child mothers or brothers to these girls are left out. They are not talked to about such issues. I think we need to change this. The boys need to know more about their sexuality and the effects of teenage pregnancies,” she said.
On the other hand, Reverend Francis Osire, a child programme and youth pastor attributed the high numbers of teenage pregnancies to parental neglect. He says parents need to start parenting and looking after their children instead of leaving them for vultures.
“Children are not dropped from heaven or come from underground. They are made by mothers and fathers. From the religious perspective, we want to tell parents not to produce children if they cannot look after them. If there’s one thing we have learnt from this pandemic is that primary caregivers are responsible for the abuse many girls face. This needs to stop,” he said.