A new report by Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU), an NGO, shows that 23,549 teenage girls visited health facilities in the Lango Sub-region for antenatal care services in the last eight months.
The survey shows that adolescent girls were impregnated between January and August this year. Lango comprises Alebtong, Amolatar, Apac, Dokolo, Kole, Kwania, Lira, Oyam, and Otuke districts.
Negative gender norms, poor parenting coupled with greed for dowry is partly to blame for the increasing teenage pregnancies.
Other factors include poverty and ignorance, peer pressure, breakdown in social protection and safety nets.
However, the researchers concluded that the number could be slightly higher since some could have not visited health facilities to seek antenatal care services.
Oyam registered the highest cases of teenage pregnancies with 4,448 cases, followed by Lira with 3,871, Kole registered 3,186, Dokolo 2,363, Kwania 2,332 and Alebtong 2,190.
Amolatar registered 1,939 cases, Apac and Otuke registered 1,714 and 1,506 cases, respectively.
Mr David Okeng, the CDFU’s programme officer, blamed the high cases of teenage pregnancy on negligence by parents.
“Parents have relaxed their roles and responsibilities to train, guide and direct their children,” he said.
“Another serious problem is the opening of trading centres in the name of development and yet they are unregulated. There is no act or by-laws controlling those centres,” Mr Okeng said.
Despite efforts by NGOs, local leaders and government to curb teenage pregnancies and early marriages, the cultural norms and practices of the Lango have been an impediment to key interventions. Several forms of violence against women and children are highly prevalent.
Also, some parents still undermine girl child education and keep girls at home during school days for domestic labour, chores and babysitting duties while they tend to the gardens.
As a result, girls are viewed commercially as bride price and can be married off at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Oyam chairperson, Mr Benson Dila Oyuku, said the district is embarking on strengthening community sensitisation to ensure that parents take full responsibility of nurturing their children.
“These children got pregnant in the hands of their parents, so our emphasis is on strengthening the capacity of households to take full responsibility for nurturing their children,” he said.
Mr Dila said the district committee of education, health and community based services had already proposed a policy which will be presented before council for approval to address this vice.
In his recent televised address, President Museveni said schools will reopen in January next year but added that the government will ensure compliance with the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) and safety.
Experts said the Constitution puts the age of marriage at 18 years. However, in the Penal Code Act, child marriage is not an offence. It is termed as defilement.
“When we want statistics of children that have been married below 18 years, it is not easy to get them if the community does not report that this girl has been married and you follow it up and find that she is married when she is below 18,” Ms Atusasiire said recently.
She added: “But if you look at such cases reported, for instance at police, it is registered as defilement. So you cannot differentiate whether it is this defilement where the girl was met along the way, defiled and left or this one the marriage was arranged officially, the parents have agreed and she is taken as someone’s wife.” Child rights activists said there are vast number of laws, policies and programmes, and if put in practice, they would be effective in ending child marriage.
Mr Gerald Baale, the Kamwenge District senior probation and social welfare officer, said the country continues to experience significant sexual and reproductive health challenges due to poor implementation of laws and policies, poor reporting, corruption and inadequate funding.
In Lango, between March 2020 and June 2021, an estimated 15,000 schoolgirls conceived.
A survey conducted by Plan International Uganda, an NGO, also indicates that a total of 8,736 teenage girls in the age bracket of 15 and 19 years were defiled and impregnated in the sub-region between April and June 2020.
In spite of the abuse and deprivation many girls suffer as a result of forced early marriage, the practice continues to be alarmingly common. According to Unicef, more than 60 million women age 20-24 married before they turned 18. In Uganda, 10 per cent of girls in Uganda are married before 15. 40 per cent are married by the age of 18.
Uganda is ranked the 18th worldwide with regard to child marriage (Unicef, 2016 statistics). Justified as an accepted norm with social and financial benefits, child marriage has little or no benefit for the young girls themselves, who are more vulnerable to domestic violence, more likely to be uneducated, at greater risk of contracting HIV/Aids, and more likely to bear children before they are physically ready. For some 70,000 young brides who die every year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications, early marriage is a death sentence.