According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics’ 2020 Statistical Abstract, Uganda has a largely young population, with 53% of the population said to be under the age of 18 in 2020. According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016, the country has a high proportion of teenage pregnancies, with rates higher in rural areas. For example, among girls aged 15-19 years, 25% have started childbearing. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and school closures have exacerbated these rates.
Defilement, pregnancies, and early marriages are all on the rise, according to various research and media sources. For example, according to the Daily Monitor newspaper, in 2020 there were 3,430 adolescent pregnancies in Kitgum, 1,014 in Kabale, 200 among schoolgirls in Kibuku, and 130 underage girls in Lwengo. These are the cases that have been reported. Several others have gone unnoticed. Defilement is the cause of many of these pregnancies. Some are caused by early sexual interactions, sometimes with peers, a lack of accurate information on how to avoid pregnancy, belief in archaic myths, and fear of seeking SRH services or restriction of access when they do.
Defilement instances, as well as the number of fathers defiling their own daughters, have more than doubled in the last year, according to the most recent government statistics. Because many of the perpetrators are family members or relatives, many cases of defilement or sexual abuse go unreported for fear of social stigma or humiliation. According to Ministry of Gender statistics, 200 fathers sexually molested their daughters out of 1,682 total defilement cases reported to the child hotline services last year. This is a significant increase from the 90 fathers who sexually molested their daughters in the previous year’s 451 incidents. Another 175 defilement and sexual assault allegations were made against intimate family members such as uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, grandparents, stepfathers and moms.
Despite the fact that there has been some registered justice in the High Court, it is frequently delayed for a variety of reasons, and cases can drag on for years. Mr David Muyanja, a child protection officer at Remnant Generations in Lyantonde, says they get calls practically every day to rescue defiled girls, but he is dissatisfied with the justice system. According to him, the majority of the cases whose papers were presented to the court a long time ago have yet to be heard.
The immediate repercussions of adolescent pregnancies are numerous, but the high death rates for teenage girls after childbirth, as well as the widespread involvement in unsafe abortions, are key concerns. Other long-term repercussions include the discontinuation of the girls’ schooling. Many girls will not return to school, just a few will pursue vocational education, and even fewer will return to the formal education frameworks in which they previously participated. Other possible consequences include contracting HIV, as well as unemployment and, thus, lesser income. These factors limit their ability to provide adequate nutrition and care for their children.
The court system is the most urgent venue for victims and caregivers to report cases of defilement, but it has long irritated them, and they have lost faith in it. Victims and their caregivers are hesitant to report abuse to the authorities and in other cases out side family, caregivers find other ways to settle with the abusers. such as paying a sum of money to the victim’s family or marrying the girl off to the abuser. How do we encourage girls to aspire to greater heights when so many of their ambitions have been shattered by pregnancy at a young age because the community and the legal system have betrayed them? Because the young girls are the ones who are most affected, we need to focus on proactive efforts to assist avoid defilement incidents by family members and the community. What causes fathers to defile their daughters and what can be done to stop this absurdity?
More awareness is needed to educate the public about sexual abuse and to eliminate archaic cultural practices that encourage incest in the home, resulting in an empowered community where victims and caregivers, rather than feeling embarrassed and unable to report, are able to come forward and report these abusers so that justice is served.
Young adolescents should have more access to Sexual and Reproductive Health information and services, including adequate information about SRH, pregnancy, and its negative consequences, because with this information, young adolescents will be able to protect themselves from predators, avoid becoming pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases. To avoid this, young boys and men should be involved as partners in the battle, as well as providing secure reporting outlets for victims, ensuring access to justice.
Because data on child sexual abuse is distributed across the police, probation offices, NGOs, and health centers, the mandate is on government to unify it in order to provide reliable information about children who have been abused by family members and others. Because perpetrators return to society after the mandatory remand period bragging about how they cannot be premised, they end up abusing other young girls, and there are no deterrent mechanisms in place for other abusers because they know they will abuse the young adolescent girls and get away with it. The government should have enough manpower to handle these cases in order to provide speedy and timely justice for the victims. The judiciary must come up with an intervention that allows victims of defilement cases to receive prompt and less expensive justice, beginning with the elimination of the Shs.25,000 price charged for defilement victims’ medical examination, which many cannot pay.
Governments and other stakeholders should invest in homes that house sexual abuse survivors while they recover from their trauma, allowing them to reintegrate into society after they have recuperated. Another intervention is to provide counselling and treatments to those who sexually prey on young adolescents, as the majority of the victims are perpetrated by persons they know. People frequently repeat what has happened to them, resulting in a vicious cycle of abuse. Some people who were sexually abused as children will go on to become offenders, so psychologists and mental health professionals can help them deal with the traumas they’ve experienced and are still experiencing so they don’t harm themselves or others.
In conclusion, the increase in teenage pregnancies over the last year and a half has been appalling. Authorities neglected to critically investigate and analyze the fire underlying causes and long-term consequences. The onus is on each of us who wishes and hopes for a better community in which a girl child is also at the forefront of key developments, decision-making, and leadership to take up the mantle and battle this horror that is devouring the youth. The future we want for these young people begins with the seemingly insignificant efforts and activities we take now to ensure a brighter future for them.