GULU – Human rights activists are concerned by the rising cases of teenage pregnancy as over 4,000 teenage girls impregnated during lockdown.
According to a report from Human Right Focus Uganda (HURIFO), a total of 4,062 cases of teenage pregnancy have been recorded in six out of eight districts in Acholi sub region within five months of the pandemic.
In an interview with, Mr Francis Odongyoo, Executive Director HURIFO on Friday in Gulu town, revealed to PML Daily that the 4,062 cases of teenage pregnancy was collected from Acholi sub region excluding data from Omoro and Kitgum who are yet to release theirs.
The data was collected within the five months from the time government shutdown schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“4,062 cases of teenage pregnancy registered in Acholi subregion excluding figures from Kitgum and Omoro districts. Girls are thinking schools will not be opened; others are saying that they can’t wait for Covid-19 to kill them before getting an offspring (a child) while others lack parental support at home during the pandemic,” Mr Odongyoo explained.
Lamwo district emerges the highest with 1,000 cases, Pader with 920, Agago 730, Nwoya 642, Amuru 620 and Gulu 150. He suspects huge numbers of cases are expected from Kitgum and Omoro.
Other factors causing the rise according to Mr Odongyoo include; poverty and the wrong perception among young girls that, “NGOs take care of child mothers.”
Mr. Geoffrey Okello, Director NGO Forum, argues that these cases of teenage pregnancy in Acholi pose a big population challenge where there will be creation of young families, domestic violence and children born with no identity.
“It is very shameful that 4,062 girls will not go back to school! This is a sign that there are many more unreported teenage pregnancies in the community and many may still get pregnant during the ongoing school shutdown,” Mr Okello argued.
He, however, appealed to parents to support their young girls engulfed in the situation so that they deliver normally, safely and prepare them to resume school in order to pursue better careers that shall be self sustainable.
Ms. Nyakorach Caroline, the Secretary Education, Health and Community Based Services Omoro Local government, confirmed that Omoro still records high cases of child marriages and it won’t be surprising to realize abnormal rise in the official data due to the pandemic.
“Before Covid-19, Omoro was ranked 28.5 percent of teenage pregnancy in Uganda, but with the current lockdown where schools are closed, we are worried that the figure might increase by additional 10 percent,” said Nyakorach.
Despite the district’s intervention through sensitization over radios, home learning, SAUTI 116 Child Helpline Service, a technology based outreach service that links children in need of care and protection to services and resources to engage learners, Ms. Nyakorach claims that the impact is very thin on the ground as parent gives children less attention to study during the break.
“Children are being engaged in a lot of activities in the garden like planting and harvesting crops, and others unable to work in the garden are not being monitored because some parents have a poor cultural perception that the best place for keeping a girl child is in school,” Nyakorach argued.
With the data of Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) putting northern region poverty level at 32.5 percent as of 2019, the situation could get worse in the households in the Corona economic despair, thus making it more difficult for the children to access TV, Radio and Internet learning being advocated for by the government. And with the inadequate and unreliable supply of electricity by the government in rural areas, access to such educational methods remains a fairy tale which justifies the exposure of children to abuses.
Omoro, Lamwo, Amuru, Agago, and Nwoya among others are no less engulfed in the situation of limited and unreliable electricity supply and poor telecommunication networks which render e-Learning (Internet), Television and radio learning approaches inefficient for learners in rural areas and some in urban setting.
According to Mr. Vincent Oceng Ocen, the District Education Officer for Omoro, children are tired of staying at home due to the too long break resulted by Covid-19 lockdown, and if the government do not device a sustainable and affordable approaches to education in the new normal, then Uganda is heading to the worse.
“Children are tired staying home but our concern is the safety of learners and teachers. If Covid-19 is to continue rising, then many children may not return to school because we are receiving cases of child abuses such as defilement, child marriages, teenage pregnancy being reported,” Mr. Oceng lamented.
Mr Ogwang Nicholas, Director Uganda Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Northern region, says, during this coronvirus pandemic human rights space has shrunk but they have formed a coalition of rights bodies operating in the region to tackle the pressing issues.
The coalition called Human Rights Working Group comprises of members from UN OHCHR, HURIFO, FORAMU, GWED-G, Human Rights Commission, African Centre for Torture Victims (ACTV), Action Aid among others. It will focus its operation in West Acholi districts of Gulu, Amuru, Omoro, and Nwoya districts with overlap in East Acholi district of Kitgum, Lamwo, Agago and Pader.
He said the coalition is in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 17 about working together to bring sustainable development which is enshrined in the Uganda Vision 2040.
“During this Covid-19, human rights space is shrinking and that is why we need to put our effort together as a Human Rights Working Group so that we create impact,” said Ogwang.
Among some of the pressing human rights issues in northern Uganda that Human Rights Working Group aim to tackle, are teenage pregnancy land wrangles, domestic violence, election related rights abuses/violation and Covid 19 new dimension.
According to 2018 report by UBOS, Uganda’s population grew from 4.9 million people in 1948 to an estimated 38.8 million people in 2018 and it’s growing at an average rate of 3 per year. The population is projected to reach 71.4 million by 2040 and 86.5 million by 2050.
But according to National Population Council report as of 2017/2018, Uganda need to focus on harnessing the Demographic Dividend by: accelerating a reduction in both
fertility and mortality to change the population age structure, reduce child dependency, invest in health, education, skills, and create jobs for young people in order to attain a quality, cohesive, productive and
innovative population for socio–economic transformation and sustainable development.