Troubled by the large number of teenage pregnancies, leaders from Teso sub region in eastern Uganda have committed to combating this issue which is threatening the future of young girls.

Recently, the leaders from the districts of Soroti, Kumi, Ngora, Bukedea, Serere, Katakwi, Amuria, Kaberamaido and Pallisa signed a memorandum to address the issue and expressed concern that teenage pregnancies, child marriages, school drop outs and the associated negative consequences are on the increase in Teso sub region. They indicated that domestic violence, the collapse of family institutions, alcoholism, and families headed up by children are also on the rise.

According to Hannington Burunde, the head of information and communications at the Ugandan Population Secretariat, the theme was selected due to teenage pregnancy problems in Uganda and in Teso sub-region, particularly Ngora district which has the highest number of pregnant teenagers.

Causes of teenage pregnancies

The memorandum read: “We are aware that other causes of teenage pregnancies such as early marriages, negative cultural beliefs and practices, high poverty levels, lack of sex education in schools and communities, marginalization of the girl child are prevalent in Teso.  And teenage pregnancies interalia contribute to high maternal and infant mortality rates, high dependency rates, depression and stunting, delivery complications and fistulas.”

The leaders committed themselves to advocate against early pregnancy, child marriage and exclusion of girls from schools at all times and to ensure this message is disseminated at district, sub-county, parish and village levels.

Their memoradum continued: “We are going to allocate funds for the prevention of teenage pregnancy, and care for victims of teenage pregnancy including ensuring that the victims get back to school; to support communities in their income generating activities for economic empowerment; commit to regulate alcohol and drug abuse in communities; and ensure timely provision of health services such as post-abortion care (where this has occurred) and manage the complications/consequences of teenage pregnancy such as fistula.”

Engaging religious leaders

One of the initiatives is to ensure religious leaders do not wed underage couples or provide them with a marriage certificate, and to encourage them to advocate against underage marriages and teenage pregnancy in their sermons.

Article 34 of the Ugandan constitution guarantees the protection of Ugandan children’s rights to basic needs such as education, safety and good health. The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey report from 2011 estimated that 30.3% of teenage girls in Eastern Uganda had had a live birth or were pregnant.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, said: “Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects. A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together and end child marriage.”

Marrying at a young age and early sexual contact put girls at higher risk of sexual health problems, including HIV, and makes them more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later.