KAMPALA – The United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA Uganda Representative, Suzanne Mandong has warned that girls do not belong in maternity wards but rather in classrooms and that education is the best contraceptive.
Ms Mandog was speaking during the Post International Day of the Girl Media E-Chat on Thursday.
She says that a girl who stays longer in school delays on planning pregnancy and is able to make informed choices
“Let’s then continue to advocate for policies and programs that focus towards digital technologies to support our girls to realize their rights.”
Uganda has been on the verge of gender-based violence including concerns of teenage pregnancies prior to the March 2020 Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
The recent statistics indicate that over 17,000 pregnancies have been posted across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mandong re-echoed the challenges caused by Covid-19, leading to many adolescent girls on all the streets due to inequalities and increased gender-based violence.
She says that on the lockdowns, the dreams and futures of many girls continue to be shuttered by the rising cases of teenage pregnancies, child marriage, and high school dropouts.
“The costs of inaction could be huge if we do not collectively address the root causes of these issues,” she warned.
“Teenage pregnancy is not only a known health issue but also a development issue with disruption to schools, health services and community centres and disturbances in programs, many adolescent girls are not able to access sexuality productive health services to enable them to make informed decisions and health choices,” Mandong said.
This year’s theme being ‘Digital Generation, Our Generation’, Mandong called on all stakeholders to work collectively and provide the girls with digital and internet accessories to enable them to achieve their goals.
“Under school closures, girls who lack internet access have seen losses in education, loses in health information. In many places, girls were denied education,” she said.
She committed UNFPA’s advocacy for the provision of appropriate sexuality information, fight gender-based violence against women and girls, and also ending early and forced marriages.
Ms Anne Allan Sizomu, Programme Specialist Adolescent & Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health said that 3/10 people in Uganda are young people between 10 to 24 making the country one of the youngest countries in the world.
“This also comes with a number of the exposure and high vulnerability to sexual and reproductive health.”
She said, according to the Uganda Demographic Health survey, girls start having sex at close to 17 years and boys at 18 years.
“So if we are having that early sexual desire, it means that we need also to be able to interpret this in what we need to do to ensure that their (teenagers) issues are actually addressed with regard to sexual and reproductive health needs,” she said.
Ms. Kevin Nabukalu from Girls-Up Initiative Uganda decried the “unbelievable” number of teenage pregnancies, saying that “what is more alarming is that the relatives, the parents and the caretakers of those girls are responsible for the pregnancies.”
She called upon everyone “from the boys to men” to take the social responsibility of the girls.
“Girls were sent back home due to covid-19 hoping to be safe but then men are taking advantage of them. Let everyone look at those young girls as their sisters and own daughters.”
According to Nabukalu, some young girls are becoming the caretakers of their homes because their parents lost their jobs due to Covid-19, which has exposed them to men “who are promising to take care of their families”.
“So they end up in transactional sex.”
Mr Muhammad Kasule, Technical Assistant at Ministry of Education and Sports, Under School Health/HIV Unit revealed that the government is coming up with a free-internet Sexual Education Application which will be attached on the ministry website so that it can help young people.
He said that the ministry is well aware of the challenges girls are facing, saying that “we are not sitting down as we are doing some work on this.”
“In fact, this year after the lockdown we have continued to build the capacity of the teachers especially the headteachers, the senior woman teachers both in primary and secondary in building their capacity especially by empowering them with knowledge and skills so that they are able to make complete decisions concerning child marriages, as well as sexual health rights.”
One of the young girls Nakandi Mastula 22, a Senior four graduate asked the government and other stakeholders to ensure that digital is accessible and affordable for girl-child if they must attain their goals.
“This day is a day of calling out different stakeholders, the government, all the civil society organisations, the telecommunication companies to work together collectively to make sure that digital is accessible for the girls, be it in the rural communities, ghetto, slum communities,” said Nakandi.
“This is time for girls also to access equally online opportunities for them to achieve. A lot of things have gone online like e-learning. A lot of girls have been left out because they cannot afford e-learning, internet, data, equipment like smartphones and laptops,” she said.
“Data is very expensive, that 12% tax that the government is taking on the data also is too much. We have girls in the rural communities who cannot access the internet, who do even know about technology yet those girls have to continue with their education, they have their dreams too and most of the time a lot of opportunities have been put online,” Nakandi pleaded.
She, however, lauded UNFPA for being a place for young people to explore and widen their horizons.
“UNFPA is a place for us young people to know that besides our communities, there are better places for us and also there are people who are willing to work with us to achieve our dreams. It is a place for hope.”
Another 15-year-old girl, a student at St. Julian High School Seeta said that in most cases, young girls who get pregnancies do not return to class, shying away from fellows, something that jeopardizes their lives.