NAMISINDWA – While many a child joined the rest of African children in marking the belated day of the African child (June 16), Rachael Namono, although a child spent most of her time at home.
Rachael Namono, 13, says whenever such days are being celebrated, she remains at home to split fire wood and prepare milk for another child; her baby.
She says besides the general pervasive atmosphere, she is also enduring the harsh realities of being raped, defiled and turned into a mother at the age of 12.
She revealed that she had been sent to a shop at night to buy kerosene when she came face to face with a man he only remembers as Zebedee, a neighbour who chased, pushed her into the bush and raped her.
“After a few weeks, I started feeling unusual, sickly and spitting a lot, my parents took me to the hospital, the nurse on duty pronounced that I was pregnant. My parents told me to go alone to the man who had impregnated me and abandoned me,” she explained.
She explained that she decided to go to her grandmother-whose single room mud and wattle house serves as a chicken house and goat house yet at the same time serves as a kitchen due to poverty.
Namono said that when the school learnt that she was pregnant, they also expelled her and that this made the man who had impregnated her to also flee the village into Kenya.
My grandmother’s house encompasses living conditions, an inability to meet basic needs because food, clean drinking water, proper sanitation, education, health care and other social services are inaccessible.
As the storm gathers ,she is gripped with more fear when she remembers that the mud and wattle house shelter that serves as their house can’t shelter them from the heavy storm and rains.
The mud and wattle house does not only leak but it is dilapidated with the sticks used for building it, seen from outside, it is also bent because it has stood a long time without being repaired and risks collapsing, this is where Namono is living with her baby.
For every day of the week that comes by, Namono watches her colleagues go to school. She is envious because under normal circumstances, she should be in the company of her friends, trekking the same path.
“For most of this year, I have been trying to figure out whether I am a child or adult and whenever I think about this, I begin crying, especially when I see my friends and age mates going to school,” she adds.
When PML Daily reached her for a comment, the thirteen year old child mother was looking after her baby at Bumoni as she awaited to get a goat as a source of milk for the baby and yet at the same time as a means of generating income.
But her story is not different – there are many girls in Manafwa who don’t attend school because they are either pregnant or are child mothers so they stay at home to take care of their children.
More typically, however, the child mothers of whom there are about 961 under ARDI in [Namisindwa and Manafwa districts]-Bumoni, Bumbo, Butiru, Namabya, Magale and Bubutu sub-counties – describe a similar inhuman treatment by their spouses and parents.
This scenario leaves the child mothers very vulnerable to a lot of social ills including more sexual exploitation, HIV/Aids and death and as Dr. Gideon Wamasebu; the District Health Officer for Manafwa says many of child mothers besides fistula, have STDs, HIV/Aids and other reproductive health complications.
Dr Wamasebu urges that the high rate of teenage pregnancies as well as child and forced marriages should be tamed to save families from the poverty burden across the district.
Dr Stephen Masai, the district Health Officer told PML Daily that girls as young as 13 years are having sex in Namisindwa in exchange for cheap gifts like body lotion, perfumed soap, clothes and snacks.
Dr Masai said statistics at the district indicate that most of them get pregnant before their 14th birthday, with many dropping out of school to fend for themselves and their children.
“Many of the teenagers are driven into relationships mainly due to poverty, parental neglect and some reportedly for mere pleasure of having an older boyfriend with ‘lots of money’ to boast about,” said Dr Masai.
Fortunately, African Rural Development Initiatives [ARDI], a local NGO which is determined to restore hope amongst the child mothers in the area learnt of her plight through a Good Samaritan and ran to her rescue.
The NGO that runs primary school and a skills development centre for child mothers and other youths at Bumoni is situated in Namisindwa district, a newly created district.
Apparently, Namono, a single child mother is sure of looking after her baby and later going to school although the baby will miss the love of her father whom the child mother only remembers as Zebedee, 20, a neighbour.
To prevent child mothers from further social ills, ARDI is giving out a goat to every child mother as a source of milk for the baby and yet at the same time as a means of generating income to look after the fatherless or child in the near future.
“We have deliberately started a goats’ project as ‘Entandikwa’ for the child mothers, just to help them feel that society thinks about them,” says Mr. Joseph Weyusya, the executive director of ARDI.
Besides giving a goat to the child mothers, ARDI also re-kindles the child mothers’ lost hope through counseling; guidance and life skills development which helps them develop self esteem, awareness, and become assertive enough to make informed choices and decisions; this has resulted into over 147 child mothers going back to different educational institutions.
Mr Weyusya initiated ARDI in 1999 to contribute to the wellbeing of the rural disadvantaged communities and to date the NGO has constructed a youth drop in centre which has also become the new home for child mothers.
The centre is used purposely to have young people come together to learn and encourage each other positively and re-kindling of the lost hope through counseling, guidance, life skills development and helping them look after the children as single child mothers.
Mr. Weyusya says that although ARDI is supporting over 900 child mothers by engaging them into income generating activities, teaching them skills like tailoring, helping them to go back to school, and cater for fatherless children, there are over 1000 child mothers who remain helpless in many homes in Manafwa district and even more in Uganda as a whole.
Most of the staff at ARDI have been trained in counseling, and social guidance whose major role is to help the child mothers not to lose hope in life but to re-set the lost ambition and fight on towards achieving it.
Mr. Weyusya says although initially he wanted to help the orphans, needy children and street children who had dropped out of school, his objective changed when he discovered shortly after research that whereas there are many child single mothers rotting away in the communities helplessly with nobody to offer a hand.
“So I shifted my vision purposely to help restore the hope destroyed in child mothers by giving them a hand in looking after their babies and yet sensitise them to go back to school or begin income generating activities to earn a living,” said Mr. Wayusya.
A study conducted by one Joanne Leerlooijer from the Netherlands revealed that many of the teenage girls in Manafwa are defiled, impregnated and/or forced into child mothers before they are 16 years.
The research report whose focus was on sexuality amongst adolescents was conducted in Manafwa district in 2008.
Mr. Weyusya says the goat project was funded by the Netherlands researcher and a friend to the project, Joanne Leerlooijer under [Adopteer een Geit] adopt a goat an NGO in Holland and friends with Shs. 62 million that saw the construction of a youth centre, reproductive health and rights trainings, tailoring and catering purchase of goats among others.
Mr. Weyusya says the youth drop in center would also offer counseling and guidance sessions, life skill sessions, and reproductive health sessions and provide an avenue for indoor and outdoor games and sports for child mothers and the entire youth folk in the area. It also has offices for the staff
ARDI also takes care of sexually active young people, and does not only preach the abstinence message but the ABC strategy [Abstinence, Be faithful and use a Condom] to fight HIV/Aids and that has drawn commitment from the communities where ARDI works.
Mr Moses Wamoto, the RDC Namisindwa said that the standards and principles to promote and protect child rights can only become a reality when they are respected by everyone within the family, in schools, communities, and other institutions that provide services to children.
The 2011 UDHS indicates that 15% of the married women aged 20 – 49 years were married before the age of 15 while 49% were married by the age of 18 years in Uganda.
The national prevalence of child marriage in Kenya is 23%, Tanzania 31% while Uganda is at 40%, highest in the East African region..
The 2013 World Vision study also ranked Uganda 16th among the 25 countries with the highest rates of early marriages where about 12% girls are married before 15yrs and 46% are married before the age of 18yrs.
And besides the children’s Act- Chapter 59 Laws of Uganda, the Convention on the Rights of Children and the OAU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child– applicable in Uganda (s.4 (c) First Schedule), the ministry of gender, labour and social development has asked institutions, parents, teachers to explore joint initiatives in advocacy against child marriage in Uganda
The ministry of health reports across the country reveals that while early child birth is a leading cause of maternal deaths and injuries for teenage girls in Uganda, sensitization about its dangers is minimal.