Covid-19 has had significant effects on the economy, education and social sectors to name a few. It expands to issues that are likely to impact generations past the existing one with the challenges that are multiplying with time. The rise in sexual violence and abuse against women and girls in Uganda has resulted in an alarming rate of child and adolescent pregnancies. This is due to a lack of present parenting, SRH education, sexual assault, violence, and the closure of schools and places of worship where young people would ordinarily feel safe.
According to the Daily Monitor and Uganda Radio Network, 1,400 of the 3,616 mothers in Luweero Hospital are teenagers. In the last two years, Kitgum has recorded 4,000 teenage pregnancies. Between January and June 2021, a total of 2,179 minors visited the health center in Kyegegwa to obtain prenatal treatment. These statistics are widely disseminated in the mainstream media, from print to television investigative stories.
Interviews conducted by the Uganda Radio Network and Daily Monitor with community leaders, volunteers and health workers as the subjects cite that the reason for the increase in young girls getting pregnant is because of poverty, lack of access to menstrual products, no access to SRHR education/counseling, sexual abuse and least commonly the notion that NGO’s take care of teenage mothers therefore a pregnancy will give them eligibility.
In Uganda, early pregnancy and motherhood drives many girls to drop out of school, traps many in a cycle of poverty dependent on public aid, and stigmatizes many for being teenage mothers or coerced into early marriage. There is a risk of irreparable setbacks and lost progress for females as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic. The impact on girls’ futures – and on all of our futures – will be terrible unless we act fast and decisively. It also increases the danger of maternal difficulties, which leads to low infant survival rates, and pressures many young women to take on adult roles for which they are not emotionally or physically prepared. This has severe social and economic consequences.
As a nation, we have work to do in order to eradicate teenage pregnancy, and this should be treated as a national emergency that is solely our duty. Where do we go from here, is the question. Is education the answer, or is there an issue that has to be addressed first? Accountability for sexual predators within communities is a good place to start; girls tell stories about having to engage in non-consensual sexual acts in order to receive menstrual products they can’t afford; coercion as a form of sexual violence must be considered, and perpetrators must be prosecuted. The community’s vigilance of those who use their power to sexually abuse others, as well as community leaders taking the lead in dealing with such issues.
The taboo or shunned story is costing the country more than it is saving it, so there needs to be an open conversation about sexuality education. It is up to legislators and ministries to eradicate bias and address the issue at hand via financing and community sensitization about sexual and reproductive health education. Pregnancies, sexual assault, and abuse must all be abolished from our communities in order to provide safer lives for young girls and opportunities for them to advance in their education. Achieving this will necessitate a collaborative effort from institutions as we work toward equality.
As we prepare for Reach A Hand Uganda’s upcoming Intergenerational Dialogue in October, these and other conversations will be key highlights. It will be important to see the differences between the generations and how they handle conversations like the one presented, determine the gaps that neither party is addressing and strive toward a middle ground that will tackle the basis of the problem rather than picking at the issues that don’t affect the existing situation.