The Ugandan girl who trekked barefoot to escape marriage at 13

Scholastica Nacap walked barefoot for 60km, across dangerous mountain terrain in north-east Uganda, to avoid getting married. She was just 13. Orphaned at nine, she was told by her father’s relatives she must marry a much older, wealthy man, so Nacap ran.

“I had to escape. I couldn’t accept [becoming] a wife and mother at 13,” she says.

Five years on Nacap is back in Karamoja, this time leading the way in the fight against early marriage and child pregnancy in this remote region. Child marriage is common in Karamoja, which has a population of about 1 million people, mainly pastoralists, scattered across 27,900 sq km of semi-arid terrain.

“Change is a gradual process that takes time,” says Alain Sibenaler, Uganda’s representative of the UN population fund, UNFPA. “However, through awareness-raising and community engagements, communities are beginning to appreciate the need to invest in education.”

Globally, an estimated 12 million girls are married before they turn 18. A report by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank concluded that child marriage costs nations billions and destroys life prospects for girls.

The legal age of marriage in Uganda is 18 (although girls can marry from 16 with parental consent), but UN statistics suggest 40% of girls marry before 18, and 10% before they are 15.

The ICRW report said a lack of sex education and access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services contributed to early pregnancies that very often lead to early marriage.

The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016 reported that almost a fifth (19%) of girls aged 15 to 19 have given birth – another 5% were pregnant with their first child. Teenagers in rural areas were more likely to have children at a young age. Around 25% of those who drop out of school are pregnant teenagers.

Uganda has one of the world’s youngest populations, with 75% of people below the age of 30 and 58% under the age of 20. The country also has one of the highest fertility rates – women give birth to an average of 5.6 children – compared with 4.8 in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. This is attributed to low use of contraceptives and early marriage.

Nacap is one of those trying to turn the tide where she lives. She now helps at a club for girls run by Bangladeshi NGO Brac, aimed at 10- to 22-year-olds and offering information on the dangers of early marriage and pregnancy. They also provide training, including tailoring and agricultural skills, and advice on how to manage money.

“In club discussions I advise the girls to shun early pregnancy and early marriages. I tell them not to be deceived by boys to ruin their future. I encourage them to go to school to study,” says Nacap, who is back in contact with her family. “Those who can’t manage studies [I encourage] to engage in a particular business activity and earn money for themselves.”

There are 250 clubs in Karamoja’s seven districts. “We share our experiences by telling stories, participating in debates, discussion of issues such as rape, adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights, growing up and menstrual hygiene. We talk about HIV, family planning and contraception,” says Nacap.

A total of 14,392 of girls have attended since May 2016, and about a quarter of them now run a business or have a job. About 80% have control over their earnings and 59% participate in household decision-making.

Nacap now runs a small bakery and restaurant – making doughnuts and selling cooked mixed maize and beans, chapatis and tea. She is not married and does not plan to be any time soon. “Which boy or man can deceive and lure me? No. I have money from business. I am busy trying to expand it. I don’t have time to think about men and marriage,” says Nacap.

She uses some of the money she earns to support her two sisters. “I need them to study and become role models. Our [relatives] should stop thinking about marrying them off. They should educate them to become lawyers, teachers, engineers and bankers who can make change in our community,” says Nacap.

“I need financial support. I need to expand the bakery and restaurant business to achieve my dreams.”

Understanding key forms of violence against children

Violence against children takes different forms. It is crucial to understand each of them and come up with measures to handle them.

It is also common that a child may be victim to more than one category at the same time, and therefore require more than one measure of intervention.

Uganda’s National Strategic Plan on Violence Against Children in Schools (2015-2010) defines forms of violence inflicted on children of school-going age – three to 18 years – in four broad categories.

The five-year strategy relies on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) definition of violence as ‘all forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse’.

Physical violence is any form of punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort. Physical violence can be fatal and non-fatal. This involves hitting children with the hand or with any object, kicking, shaking, scratching, pinching, biting, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions and burning, among others.

Corporal punishment refers to any disciplinary measure in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort. Psychological or emotional violence is any act or behaviour that conveys to a child that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or of value only in meeting another’s needs.

It includes blaming, degrading, intimidating, terrorizing, isolating, restraining, confining, corrupting, exploiting, spurning, withholding affection, and belittling the child’s capabilities, qualities and desires, or otherwise behaving in a manner that is harmful, potentially harmful, or insensitive to the child’s developmental needs or can potentially damage the child psychologically or emotionally.

Sexual violence is any sexual act (or attempt to obtain a sexual act), unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic a person’s sexuality, using coercion, threats of harm or physical force, by any person regardless of relationship to the child.

This encompasses a range of offences, including completed non-consensual sex acts (i.e. rape), attempted non-consensual sex acts, abusive sexual contact (i.e. unwanted touching), and non-contact sexual abuse (e.g., threatened sexual violence, exhibitionism, verbal sexual harassment).

Sexual violence also includes the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful or psychologically harmful sexual activity; the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials, and the provision of gifts especially from men to girls or from women to boys in return for sexual pleasure.

Neglect and negligent treatment is the failure to meet the children’s physical (such as food, shelter, clothing) and psychological needs; protect them from danger; to access vital services required by the child such as education, medical care, registration and or abandonment when those responsible for children’s care have the means, knowledge and access to services to do so.

Some of the common forms of negligent treatment in schools include failure by schools to provide midday meals, absenteeism among teachers and deliberately providing substandard education.

The strategy observes that there are also new emerging forms of violence such as school fires that have resulted into loss of lives of children and property.

Children still face sexual violence

In Summary

Incidents: Findings show that one in four young adults has experienced sexual violence in their childhood and had their first abuse at the age of 13 or at a much younger age.

Back in 2012, Daily Monitor published a traumatising story of Joan (not real name) narrating how her own father had repeatedly raped her on a number of occasions.
As a result, the young girl sustained injuries to her private parts which oozed blood and pus.
To date, the girl continues to suffer psychological distress from the ordeal.
Joan is among many girls whose stories have been highlighted in the different media platforms as a way of raising awareness about the vice.
Sexual violence encompasses sexual abuse and exploitation of children including forced sex, erotic touches such as grabbing or fondling of the child. Sexual violence also includes harassment, threats and tricks directed towards a child in exchange for sex.

The statistics
Uganda Violence Against Children survey report findings released on August 2018 show that one in three young women have experienced sexual abuse during their childhood.
Also, one in four young adults who experienced sexual abuse in their childhood had their first abuse experience at 13 or at a much younger age.
Further, the report highlights that most frequent perpetrators of sexual violence against girls during their childhoods were neighbours and strangers. These girls, aged 13 to 17 years, most frequently experienced sexual violence on the road, their own respective homes and school.
Meanwhile, boys aged 13 to 24 years reported friends, classmates, and neighbours as the most frequent perpetrators of sexual violence. They were abused in the evening, and most commonly at school, in their homes, and on the road.

Consequences of sexual violence
Children who suffer sexual abuse get affected in different ways.
They may get mental disorder as a result of recurrent sexual episodes playing in their minds, says Ian Musoke, a child welfare social worker.
“For example, if a girl was raped, there is a likelihood that she will keep thinking of what happened to her, and, in the long run, this may cause her mental agony,” Musoke says.
Rape also comes with the high risk of exposure to HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhea and syphilis. Some girls also get pregnant in the process.
“Sadly, because some of these girls conceive at a time they are still very young, they end up losing their life as well as that of the baby,” Musoke says.
Then, some of these victims may either resort to run away from home or committing suicide out of shame.
Musoke says sometimes these victims can end up detesting men or relationships.
A case in point, Namayanja, now aged 25 years, says she starting hating men after being raped by her uncle at the age of 10 years.
“I don’t like the idea of any man touching me as it always reminds me of my painful past,” Namayanja says.
Although a number of suitors continue to propose marriage, Namayanja continuously says she is not yet ready to settle down. Uganda is a signatory to a number of international instruments including the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), article 19, which requires that children are protected from all forms of violence (including sexual abuse).
However, a Ministry of education and sports report issued in 2014 titled Response, Tracking, Referral, and Response (RTRR), guidelines on violence against children in schools, noted there were existing challenges towards reporting cases of abuse.
These included limited understanding of children’s rights and responsibilities, mismanagement of reported cases of violence among children as well as gaps in the existing laws on violence against children. The RTRR report highlighted that although Uganda has various laws that prohibit abuse, they lack specific provisions on mandatory reporting of cases of abuse against youngsters.

What can be done to avert sexual violence?
Mr Timothy Opodo, the child protection manager at Child Fund International says there is need to empower children especially the girl-child to be able to detect and report cases of sexual abuse.
“They should be able to identify incidents such as inappropriate erotic language directed towards them as well as bad touches and report the culprits to the law enforcement officers,” Opodo says.
In addition, Opodo says there is need for both parents and teachers to empower children with life skills so as that they can grow up to be confident and not shy to speak out any issue.
Since there are still communities with unfair norms targeting the girl-child including early child marriages, Opodo says there is also need to address these issues at hand.

Uganda: Violence against women unabated despite laws and policies

She had always dreamed of becoming a powerful politician, and her excitement on finally joining Parliament was overwhelming. On her first day at the august House, she was full of hope. Hope of changing her constituency for the better.

One year later, the youthful MP feels frustrated. “I love my job, but sometimes I wonder if I am in the right place,” she said.

The bubbly MP has been the target of sexual harassment by senior male colleagues. “I once had my breasts squeezed by a male colleague old enough to be my father. Another one hounded me during an MPs’ trip abroad. He kept knocking at my door in the night. I had to lock myself in.”

She says harassment is commonplace in Parliament but often goes unreported “because we fear the consequences.”

Elsewhere, in Mukono, 21 km east of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, Grace Ozitya has battled with her in-laws for years to regain her deceased husband’s property.

“When he died, they forced me out of our home and destroyed our garden,” said Ms. Ozitya.

Police did not help her because Ms. Ozitya could not raise $3 to facilitate the investigation. At the administrator-general’s office, a file was opened, but it later disappeared. She gave up until staff from International Justice Mission, a US-based international NGO focusing on human rights, law and law enforcement, intervened.

Violence against women is on the increase in Uganda despite the presence of laws and policies to protect victims and survivors.

According to the Uganda Police Force’s annual crime report, gender-based violence cases that were reported and investigated increased by 4% (from 38,651 to 40,258 cases) between 2015 and 2016.

The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey revealed that up to 22% of women aged 15 to 49 in the country had experienced some form of sexual violence. The report also revealed that annually, 13% of women aged 15 to 49 report experiencing sexual violence. This translates to more than 1 million women exposed to sexual violence every year in Uganda.

Violence against women has recently taken new, more sophisticated forms. An increasing number of women are, for instance, reporting cyber-bullying and abuse through social media and smartphones.

“I recently received a WhatsApp call from a strange number. When I picked up the call, the guy on the other side started groping his genitals. I blocked him,” said Monica Amoding, a politician.

In other cases, jilted lovers expose nude pictures of their ex-girlfriends on social media platforms in what is locally called “revenge porn”.

In 2014 Desire Luzinda, a celebrated Ugandan musician, made a public apology after her ex- boyfriend leaked her nude pictures on social media.

“I want to apologise to my mother, daughter, family, friends, fans and any other people who have been offended by these images.… This was a breach of trust by someone I loved.… This person has not only abused that trust but now seeks to drag me down,” said Ms. Luzinda, who was charged under the 2014 Anti-Pornographic Act.

Since Ms. Luzinda’s incident, over 10 women have had their nude pictures leaked on social media by jilted lovers, resulting in public shaming and ridicule.

“In all the revenge porn cases, women have been singled out for criticism while the offending men are never followed up,” says Eunice Musiime, the executive director of Akina Mama wa Africa, a pan-African women’s organization.

This form of abuse thrives on an absence of proper legislation and a lack of investigative expertise among Ugandan law enforcement officers.

“Unless we put in place effective laws and equip law enforcement organs with modern technology and skills to handle these cases, the situation will only worsen,” says Anna Mutavati, the deputy country representative for UN Women Uganda.

Corrective rape is also rife as a form of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAW/G). “We have received many complaints from lesbian women who claim to have been forced into heterosexual sex by their families as a way to correct their sexual orientation,” Ms. Musiime says. Because of the negative attitudes about lesbianism in Ugandan society, victims find it difficult to report.

“‘Concerned’ relatives hand you over to a man to have sex with you to stop you from being a lesbian,” one young woman said. This lady (who requested anonymity) was abused for several years through corrective rape and by her own partner. Today she is working to rehabilitate fellow women who have gone through the same experience.

The government remains largely unprepared to handle some new forms of VAW, especially cyber abuse.

“We are aware of the cyber forms of VAW like revenge porn, but that is an area for the Uganda Communications Commission to handle. We are also waiting to hear from the Pornographic Control Committee to advise on the way forward,” Maggie Kyomukama, the assistant commissioner for gender and women affairs in the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) said.

Challenges abound

Ineffective laws pose a big challenge to the fight against VAW. Laws such as the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Marriage Bill do not address key aspects of VAW. None of these laws criminalise marital rape, for instance.

The Domestic Violence Act does not cover cohabiting partners, while the 2004 amendment to the Land Act of 1998 requires spousal consent to sex, but does not recognise coownership of land between spouses.

The Land Act also fails to require customary land tenure systems to permit women to act as coowners/managers of customary land, and creates weak protections for widows who seek to inherit their husband’s land, says Ms. Musiime. She also points out that the Employment Act, 2006 restricts punitive action in sexual harassment cases at work to an employer or his representative, saying nothing of physical, sexual and verbal abuse by coworkers.

Poor funding for VAW programmes also remains a huge challenge.

“A look at the budgets for the sectors mandated to address VAW/G is worrying. While activities are listed in the budgets, there are no monetary allocations. Most of the work on VAW/G is donor funded and concentrated in project areas,” says Diana Kagere Mugerwa, the media and national advocacy officer at the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP), a local civil society organization.

In 2016 and 2017 the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development budgeted to spend UGX 1.68 billion ($450,000) on VAW programmes, a great deal of which has been coming from donors such as Irish Aid and the United Nations Population Fund. This, according to Ms. Mutavati, is not sustainable.

“Dependency on external financing does not create sustainable ground sectors to mainstream this work. What happens if the donors pull out?” she asks.

Limited capacity on the part of the gender ministry also cripples VAW activities.

According to MGLSD’s Ministerial Policy Statement for Financial Year 2016/2017, during that period the Directorate of Gender and Women Affairs had only 10 staff members, a fraction of the workforce required. The Child and Family Protection Unit of the Uganda Police Force has only 645 police officers to cover 112 districts. This makes it hard for the police to respond to the numerous reported cases.

Police also lack the requisite skills and financial support to investigate VAW cases. Justice is frustrated by an inadequate number of critical facilities, like shelters where VAW victims can be accommodated and receive counseling and other support before returning home, as well as an absence of specialised courts where it is safe for women to report their cases.

“While there are specialized courts on corruption, environment, terrorism and other cases, there are no such courts for VAW cases. That is telling,” says Mutavati.

The country has 13 shelters where VAW victims can be accommodated. Four of these are donor funded.

Successes

Last year the government launched a National Gender Based Violence (GBV) policy, specifying the roles each sector is supposed to play to ensure the prevention of and response to VAW. Assistant Commissioner Kyomukama also says the government’s National Development Plan 1 and 2 have included comprehensive frameworks to address VAW.

In a bid to address poverty, which usually plays a factor in VAW, the government though MGLSD last year launched the Ugandan Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) to improve women’s access to financial services and equip them with entrepreneurial skills.

According to Brenda Kifuko Malinga, UWEP’s national programme coordinator, so far 3,416 projects have been launched and 43,602 women assisted throughout the country.

Ms. Mutavati says that the UN and its partners have made some improvement in sexual violence in the most heavily affected eastern regions of Busoga and Karamoja through the Joint Programme on GBV funded by the Norwegian embassy and through the government programme on GBV supported by Irish Aid, the Irish government programme for overseas development.

Despite some success, a lot more work remains to be done to ensure a violence-free country for Ugandan women.

VAW in Uganda, the figures

Uganda’s 2016 police crime report indicates that defilement cases alone rose by 34 percent, from 13,118 in 2015 to 17,567 in 2016. Defilement is the act of having sex with girls under 18. Rape cases reported, according to the report, also increased, from 1,419 to 1,572.

A report released last month by researchers from Makerere University College of Health Sciences indicated that one out of five female people with hearing impairments has been a victim of rape in the last 12 months.

A 2015 report by the International Justice Mission indicates that 40% of widows experience actual or attempted property grabbing in their lifetime. More than 30% of widows are victims of property grabbing. In many cases the widows spoke of perpetrators (usually relatives of their deceased husbands) threatening and physically assaulting them and sometimes making attempts on their lives and those of their children.

Police crime reports from 2011 through 2017 also indicate that deaths resulting from domestic violence went down by a significant 54%—from 358 to 163—in this time.

According to statistics from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), out of 1,594 new rape and 7,618 defilement cases reported in 2015 and 2016, only 57% brought punishment to the perpetrator. Such a low number gives others a sense of impunity, and in so doing exacerbates VAW.

Between 2012 and 2017, about 5 percent of all sexual violence cases handled in a year by the ODPP have been closed due to lack of evidence, according to a CEDOVIP study.

The police and Ministry of Health—the two leading public institutions in GBV response—spend an estimated UGX 37.7 billion (about $10.4 million) annually dealing with GB.

For more information: source Africa Renewal

 

End the silence on child marriage

This year’s Day of African Child commemoration theme: ‘Leave no child behind for Africa’s Development’ contributes to Agenda 2030 that emphasises that children should be at the centre-stage in the drive towards sustainable economic development.

In Uganda, we are living in a situation where more than half (53 per cent) of women aged between 20 and 49 marry before the age of 18. Sadly, many girls, and to a smaller extent boys, enter marriage without any chance of exercising their right to choose.

Within a rights perspective, key concerns are the denial of childhood and adolescence, the curtailment of personal freedom and the lack of opportunity to develop a full sense of selfhood as well as the denial of psychosocial and emotional well-being, reproductive health and educational opportunity.

Generally, where girls are uneducated and ill-prepared for their roles as mothers and contributors to society, there are costs to be borne at every level – from the individual household – to the nation as a whole.

The accepted and respected marriage had respect for the girl-child where a woman could not be married unless she was at least 24 years and this involved negotiations and consent.

The new disorder introduced new violent approach of abduction of girls and women without their consent or the parents. Any child marriage constitutes a forced marriage in recognition that even if a child appears to give their consent, any one below the age of 18 is not able to make a fully informed choice whether or not to marry.

Forced marriage in these many conservative communities has resulted in young girls being pushed into a huge responsibility of becoming wives and mothers. And because girls are not adequately prepared for these heavy burdens, it has often resulted into serious impact on their psychological welfare, their perceptions of themselves and their relationships.

Early marriage plans are also discouraging parents of girls from educating their daughter with perceived believe that a formal education will only benefit her future family in-law and yet a lack of education also means that young brides lack knowledge about sexual relations, their bodies and reproduction, exacerbated by the cultural silence surrounding these subjects.

This denies the girl the ability to make informed decisions about sexual relations, planning a family, and her health, yet another example of their lives in which they have no control.
Notwithstanding the laws in place, a range of policy and programmatic actions should be orchestrated to reduce child marriage and its impact.

Every stakeholder must be concerned that no Child is left behind by ensuring that critical, broadly adapted and cost effective programmes are effective, but also feasible to implement at sufficient scale to make them meaningful and sustainable.

Johnson Okwera
okwerajohnson@yahoo.com

NBS TV Investigates exposes modern day slavery in Uganda

Have you ever stopped to wonder what 50,000 Uganda Shillings can do for you today? With 50, 000 shillings, I can pay for my monthly Netflix subscription, with 50, 000 shillings, I can happily buy 7 beers at Valhalla’s reggae night, with the same amount still, I can afford a good steak from a fancy restaurant around Kampala. But there is more.

In Soroti district, the life of a girl is worth 50,000 shillings. For seven beers, you can buy a human being in Uganda today. Let that sink in!

In yet another groundbreaking investigative story, this is what NBS TV’s journalists have uncovered. The story under the NBS Investigates feature went deep cover to expose modern day slavery in our country. The months long investigation, now showcased on Next Media Uganda YouTube channel and already aired is present for all to see and attest for themselves.

NBS TV journalists risked their lives, led by Canary Mugume, to go undercover to untangle the web that begins from Soroti and finds its way onto Kampala road and other parts of the country. The hope of this investigative piece being that the authorities and Ugandans who care about their country take note.

One can only hope that this investigative piece on modern day slavery in Uganda will encourage a crackdown on this evil in our country. We hope that lives will be saved and changed for the better and everyone will take up the mantle to break up this vicious trade that ruins lives.

Meanwhile NBS TV is not done. We have lined up yet another social good investigative piece coming up, one helmed by Solomon Sserwanjja. The piece is about the illegal sale of government drugs. I cannot wait to share it with you very soon! Source NBS TV

16 days of activism – 2018

The theme of the 2018 Campaign is “End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work.” This year’s theme builds on the momentum and achievements during the 2017 campaign, when over 700 organizations in 92 countries campaigned around the theme of “Together We Can End GBV in Education.” Our goal for 2018 is to continue to target the institutions in which gender-based violence is perpetuated and push for systemic change and accountability.

rom 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991.

For far too long, impunity, silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to escalate to pandemic proportions—one in three women worldwide experience gender-based violence.

The time for change is here and now.

In recent years, the voices of survivors and activists, through campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Niunamenos, #NotOneMore, #BalanceTonPorc and others, have reached a crescendo that cannot be silenced any more. Advocates understand that while the names and contexts may differ across geographic locations, women and girls everywhere are experiencing extensive abuse and their stories need to be brought to light.

Clergy blame child marriages on traditional marriage fetes

Religious leaders in Teso sub-region have blamed the high rates of child marriages in the region on traditional marriage ceremonies which they argue entice underage girls to want to copy those that are married off in traditional ceremony.

Rev. Sam Ediau, the education coordinator of Church of Uganda Soroti diocese expressed concern that parents have made it a habit to ‘subject’ adolescent girls to ‘being attractive centre pieces’ while at traditional marriage ceremonies. Rev. Eduau says that the practice of actively involving girls in such marriage ceremonies puts them in the mood for marriage. He wants girls discouraged from taking part in such ceremonies.

“It’s now becoming a routine that during introduction ceremonies you have seven year-olds, because they want biscuits, sweets, you find them dancing in a funny way. I don’t know what we are going to do about it,” Rev. Ediau said.

Rev. Ediau says that due to the early marriages, Teso region is experiencing worrying levels of school drop outs arising from child pregnancies.

According to Amos Oluka, the Senior Probation Officer for district, 80 percent of young girls in the district start families before making 18 years. He also blames the desire among parents to obtain bride price as a key motivating factor.

“Whereas early marriages are seemingly rampant in the rural areas, there are very many aspects that have pushed these girls to early marriages such as cultural tendencies,” Oluka told Sunrise.

 

Children at a traditional marriage ceremony

Other sources, including studies however attribute the high rates of child marriages not on traditional ceremonies but rather on poverty, sexual abuse that forces parents to force the offenders to marry off their daughters.

Florence Atim, the in charge child-family and protection Unit Soroti remaked for example that most early marriages have resulted from cases of defilement in the district.

“The poverty situation coupled with rude utterances from parents, and peer groups among others have largely caused girls to leave home for early marriage,” Atim explained.

According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2016; 25 per cent of adolescents aged 15-19 have begun childbearing and 19 per cent of women aged 15-19 have given birth.

According to the website, girlsnotbrides.org, nearly 1 out of every 2 girls below 18 years in Uganda gets married before making 18 years. Uganda has the highest level of teenage pregnancies in Africa. Nearly 1 in every 2 girls in Uganda is married before the age of 18. Poverty, traditional and social norms, insecurity that causes displacement as key drivers of child marriages.
“Many parents marry their daughters in the hope of securing their financial security.

Bride price can also be a motivation for parents: a younger bride means a higher bride price for the family.”

The government launched the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy On June 16, 2015 during celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child.

 

 

Where child marriages are the norm

Sophia Nangobi sits quietly under a huge muwafu (African canarium) tree, a few feet away from the labour ward of Mayuge Health Centre III. It seems she is bored because she plucks a piece of grass, puts it in her mouth, and begins to chew on it.

Everything about the bare-footed girl, including her shyness when I approach her, is girlish. But, it remains just that – impressions. Rooting around in the grass, as if searching for something precious, is Nangobi’s eight-month-old daughter, Shuleya Nabirye. At 17, Nangobi has so far spent three years in marriage. She is also unemployed.

“I’m happy in my marriage,” she says quietly, probably wondering why I should ask. Her husband, Sadat Muwanika, 20, is a boda boda rider in Mawumu Parish, which about 11km from Mayuge town. For riding a customer this distance, a boda boda rider earns Shs1,000.

“I’m the last born of eight children brought up by a single mother,” Nangobi says. “When I got to Primary Five, my mother could not afford the Shs20,000 for school fees, so I dropped out of school.”

When Muwanika approached her for a relationship, there was nothing stopping her. With her mother’s blessing, Nangobi became Muwanika’s wife at 14.

It is school or marriage
There is a general agreement that attending school stands as a buffer between rural girls and child marriage. However, Universal Primary Education (UPE) is no longer free in rural areas because parents – who are often living under the poverty line – have to pay for school requirements such as pens, exercise books, uniforms and lunch. Girls like Nangobi fill up the statistics of the number of girls dropping out of school every year. But, unlike others who would jump at the chance to resume their education, Nangobi is comfortable with her lot.

“I do not want to return to school even if someone offered me money,” she says, adding, “I want to give birth to four more children and look after our home.”

As we are talking, a heavily pregnant woman emerges from the labour ward. From a distance, she looks like she could be above 30 years old, but that is probably due to that special way in which a nine-month pregnancy can sap the liveliness out of a woman. The woman is Jennifer, Nangobi’s sister. At 20, this is her third pregnancy.

“The nurses say I’m due to deliver any day now,” she says, as she struggles to sit on the ground. She is married to a farmer and they had their first child two years ago. The girls came to the health centre without an emergency bag of delivery items such as gloves and a Macintosh sheet. Since they are returning home, it is likely that Jennifer may give birth from home before they have time to return to the health centre.

To the rescue
Olivia Kawuma Aliyenka, a retrenched nursing assistant, encounters pregnant teenagers on a daily basis. The 56-year-old is a member of a Village Health Team (VHT) and moves around villages offering basic health education to different families. Of late, her duties include urging first-time mothers – who can be as young as 13 years old– to deliver in a health facility.

At about midday, she rides her bicycle into Mayuge town and parks outside a church where a man is setting up a small table, two chairs and two benches under a mvule tree. The mobile vaccination team is scheduled to spend the entire day in this location. Aliyenka has come to offer a helping hand.

“This is a town and there are a lot of things for young girls to admire,” she says, adding, “Some parents send their daughters to school without anything to eat, yet they are at an age where they crave so many things.

Then, there are the boda boda men who entice them with little money. I can only compare these boda boda men to a plague when it comes to young girls. In my experience, many of these teenage girls suffer obstetric complications during delivery and are usually recommended for C-section deliveries, which at Shs300,000, are expensive.”

Aliyenka, therefore, also sells them vouchers cards under the Uganda Reproductive Health Voucher Project (URHVP). These vouchers, sold at Shs4,000, enable pregnant girls to receive antenatal care, medical help during delivery, postnatal care and free C-sections when referred by the doctor.

“I ride more than 5kms out of town every day and over the years I have witnessed a big attitude change in rural women. They are now more eager to deliver their babies at health facilities instead of their homes or in the homes of traditional birth attendants.

In fact, towards the end of last year, 15 women gave birth at the health centre in a single night. Previously, there would be only two women on any given night.”

Searching for a way out
There are many brick huts in the compound where Sauda Nkoma lives with her husband. The compound belongs to her husband’s clan. It is easy to see that Nkoma is not happy with her situation in life. The 19-year-old got pregnant at 17; her husband was three years older.

Now, they have a one-year-old son, Asumani Musaku. “I regret getting this ‘accident’ at a young age,” she says, adding, “In fact, I do not want to get pregnant again, maybe in the next three years. I’m now using inject plan. My parents were very angry with me. I think they hated me at the time. There is nothing good about getting married when you are young.”

Nkoma got pregnant after she had completed Senior Four at Delta High School. The yearning to return to the classroom is evident in the girl. Teenage mothers in the rural areas in most cases face more obstacles in their ability to pursue educational opportunities than young women who delay childbearing.

Nkoma’s husband does not have a steady job and he takes on whatever job comes his way. “Life was not good for us. We had no hope of getting a way to earn a living until I enrolled for a training opportunity with BRAC.”

In December 2016, BRAC Uganda in Mayuge District, with funding from UNFPA, offered a three-day livelihood training to a number of teenage mothers and girls who had dropped out of school. The trainings, as a grassroots intervention, are offered with the hope that economically empowered girls (and their families) are less likely to become victims of child marriage and teenage pregnancy. From the training, Nkoma received two goats.

“If this female goat keeps on producing, with five healthy goats, I can sell each at Shs60,000 and buy a cow. I would then sell the cow and buy a piece of land. I wish BRAC could give us cows, seeds and land.”

BIG PICTURE
The effects
Children born to young mothers are at increased risk of sickness and death, while teenage mothers are more likely to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Also because these girls get pregnant before the right age, child marriages and teenage pregnancies have huge implications on the maternal health of the country.

Besides, most of these girls get married to older men so there is a high likelihood of domestic violence in the marriage.

“These marriages have implications on education of the girl-child and the country as many girls are now dropping out to get married,” adds Peninah Kyoyagala, Programme Analyst, Adolescent Health – UNFPA.
World Bank research on Uganda shows that teenage marriages account for about 36 per cent school dropouts.

The policies
Since government developed the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy, an inter-ministerial committee was formed to provide guidance on the interventions around child marriage.

Government is also mobilising civil society organisations to invest in the area of ending child marriage. There is also the Youth Livelihood Fund, which was formed to reach out to girls who are at risk of child marriage due to poverty.

On June 16, 2015, on the Day of the African Child, the government launched the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy. The strategy outlines approaches and interventions that will end child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda.

The statistics
According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2016;
• 25 per cent of adolescents aged 15-19 have begun childbearing and 19 per cent of women aged 15-19 have given birth. Adolescent childbearing is more common in rural than in urban areas (27 versus 19 per cent, respectively).
• Teso sub-region has the highest proportion of adolescents who have begun childbearing and Kigezi sub-region the lowest (31 and 16 per cent respectively).
• Teenagers in the lowest wealth quartile tend to begin childbearing earlier than those in the highest quartile (34 versus 15 percent, respectively). This is due to poverty which makes it easy for young girls to be lured into sex, parents’ mindsets to child marriages, and low education attainment.

I became a mother at 16

“As a teenager, I was not stubborn nor was I bubbly and loud. I was reserved and introverted, almost always engrossed in my books reading and revising. I was also an excellent performer in class, something that turned me into some sort of envy of everyone in our neighbourhood. You could barely tell I had a boyfriend.

Young love spelt trouble
I met my boyfriend, who is now my husband around the same time. We fell in love, and like all such stories, shortly after I realised I was pregnant. That is when it all turned south. Breaking the news to my parents is by far the most painful experience I have ever had to go through. My parents were greatly disappointed. My mother was literally in tears when the truth sank in. To make matters worse, my boyfriend was not even Muslim.

Fortunately for me, and contrary to what I expected, my family was very supportive right away. Of course, many of my relatives and our neighbours were not amused. They ridiculed me almost the entire time for casting shame upon the family. Thanks to the support I had, I carried on with my pregnancy.

On December 13, 1996 I gave birth to Sharon Kanyange, my first daughter. Carrying her in my hands for the first time made me realise that I was a child no more. I had to fend for her just like my parents had done for me. I knew it was not going to be easy, but I just had to find a way.

Motherhood and tough decisions
I had to make another tough decision. I chose not to go back to school. I was in Senior Four then which meant that I had to repeat the class. My parents’ dream was for me to become a doctor, and they were willing to see me through school even when I was a mother. But I thought it would affect my child; I would either get bad grades or a poorly raised child. I never wanted my daughter to go through what I was already going through.

I started my journey of motherhood almost immediately. I will be honest, the overwhelming support I had made it all easy. My mother, mother-in-law and a few of our close relatives were always in and out helping me. I would be lying if I told you I know how to perfectly use the famous herbal bath known as kyogero. That is how supportive they were. They did it all.
Shortly after, my boyfriend and I moved in together to start our little family. He promised to take care of us, and I must say he has since kept his word. He helped me start a small business, and concentrated on his job as an engineer. When I was 19, I gave birth to my second daughter Maria Namulwana.

Together, we have managed to raise our two daughters into responsible young ladies. Raising a girl is no small feat especially in this generation. Sharon is making 22 this year and is about to graduate with a degree in Veterinary medicine from Makerere University while her sister Maria is in Senior Five.

As a child, Sharon was so stubborn. We were always fighting. There is a time I asked her to go to the bedroom to pick something for me. I think she was around seven. Minutes later, she had not returned. I went to the bedroom to check on her only to find out that, instead of doing what I had asked her to do, she had poured milk all over the carpet.

I slapped her so badly, it terrified me later. I thought something bad would happen to her. Because I am short tempered, I was going to beat her more often as she was showing no signs of change. That is when I decided to send her to boarding school. I thought that her father and I were showering her with love,.Things had to change. Boarding school helped a great deal as she returned a changed girl. After a few school terms, she and I were on good terms. In fact, I have not had any trouble with her ever since. The thought of her going astray always scared me.

Joy of motherhood
My children are my pride. I am 38 and Sharon is 21, but people cannot believe that we are mother and daughter and not sisters. Her friends are always in awe. It makes me smile, seeing them in shock asking her how old her mother is. That is something not many parents experience. I just enjoy it.

Seeing my girls and the infinite possibilities they have to become whatever they wish to be outweighs all my regrets. At least I have not let the 16-year-old me down. Besides teaching her to make responsible decisions, I have tried to instill in her the spirit of being tough and never giving up. I have been a bit tough on her and she knows it, but it has been worth it. I do not regret it at all.”

Sharon’s story
“My mother has taught me many things, but the spirit of never giving up which she has instilled in me stands out. She has gone through a lot raising us and always going the extra mile so that we have everything we desire. I have been to good schools, and never have I had troubles of school fees.

Growing up, our home was filled with so much joy and happiness. However, she was always a tough disciplinarian. I thought that she disapproved of the fact that my father loved me so much. I was sent to boarding school, a decision I later found out was made because I was quite stubborn. When I became old enough, I understood why she and my father were doing all this. I also found out that her dream was to be a doctor. I decided to concentrate on my books so that I become the doctor she wanted to be.

I attended a number of primary schools; Kampala Quality Primary School, Vincent Alex Boarding Primary School, Mukono then Namugongo Girls School where I was until Primary Seven. I then joined St. Maria Goretti Katende for my O-Level and Rubaga Girls School for A-Level. I am now in my third year doing Veterinary Medicine at Makerere University. My dream is to graduate and make her proud.

Source Daily Monitor

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