KUMI – Every July 11, Uganda joins other United Nations member states to commemorate World Population Day which was landmarked in 1987 when the world population reached the five billion mark.
This year’s national twenty-nineth event is slated to be hosted by Kumi district under the theme “Mindset Change for Wealth Creation: Ending Teenage Pregnancy”.
According to National Population Council – NPC, as the world’s population continues to rapidly grow, there are even more profound implications on development, sustainability, environmental health, poverty eradication, access to health services and youth empowerment.
Ahead of the nation’s World Population Day celebrations, Teso sub-region leaders; ie District Chairpersons of Kumi, Amuria, Bukedea, Kaberamaido, Katakwi, Kapelebyong, Kumi, Ngora, Serere, Soroti and Soroti City have convened with other stakeholders including United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA, National Population Council, Naguru Teenage Centre, Reproductive Health Uganda, police to dialogue on matters of teenage pregnancies and early marriages in the sub-region.
Aimed at discussing the role of district leaders in ending child and teenage pregnancy, the dialogue was held at Kumi Hotel in Kumi District on Saturday.
NPC indicates that much as Uganda has a school health policy targeting in-school children including adolescents and has developed an adolescent health policy, there is low access to adolescent health-friendly services and limited disease surveillance resulting in high teenage pregnancies at 25% and the rates being higher (31%) in Teso sub-region.
“One of the health risks to young mothers include unsafe abortion attempts due to lack of adolescent maternal-friendly services at health centers. Adolescent mothers are also at a high risk of poverty….”
Kumi District Chairperson, Nelson Elungat Lakol revealed that in the year 2020, the registered deliveries under 19 years were 1723, increased to 2099 and reduced to 573 in the next two years respectively. Today, he says the teenage pregnancy rate in his district is at 21.5% compared to the previous two years; 2021 and 2020 when it was at 22.3% and 20.3% respectively.
The leaders indicate that the major causes of teenage pregnancy in the sub-region include; gender-based violence individual behaviour of children, low socio-economic status (livelihood), limited education levels, early sexual encounter, poor parenting, rape and use of drugs.
Bukedea district chairman, Mr. Olemukan Moses says that in his district, children constitute 57% of the total population.
This results into high dependence burden coupled with poverty, limiting the provision of basic needs for the children and especially the girl child thus getting exposed and men taking advantage of their sorry situations.
Speaking at the event, Dr. Mary Otieno, UNFPA Country Representative said that much as 46.8% of Uganda’s population is below the age of 15 years which translates to high dependence ratio, “this can be harnessed into an opportunity when the right investments are made.”
Represented by Ms Anne Alan Sizomu, Programme Specialist- Adolescent and Youth SRH at UNFPA, Dr. Otieno said that although Uganda aspires to become an Upper Middle Income Country by 2040, achieving a faster socio-economic transformation will depend on the country’s capacity to strengthen the fundamentals for exploiting the youthful population.
“This young population has to be turned into a youthful and productive human capital that will contribute to the sustainable economic growth of the country.
“This will not be achieved without ensuring that girls and boys, adolescents and youth enjoy the dignity and human rights to expand their capabilities, secure their reproductive health and rights, are educated and skilled, and find decent work,” she added.
Dr. Otieno noted that when young people have limited access to information and health services, they are denied the opportunity to make informed choices about their reproduction – when to start childbearing, space and when to stop.
“Many young girls, one in three (31 percent) in Teso region give birth before the age of 19 years. In the period of the COVID 19 pandemic alone, Teso region alone, registered over 67,170 teenage births (DHIS 2, 2019 – 2021. At national level, over 375,000 girls were reported to have gotten pregnant. Half of these pregnancies, (46 percent) are unintended and unplanned. Many of these are a result of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, a clear indication that we are failing adolescent girls. The repeat pregnancies we see among adolescent mothers are a glaring signpost that they desperately need sexual and reproductive health information and services,” she said.
Among other many consequences of child marriages and teenage pregnancy, the UNFPA Uganda boss shared that it traps the victims into a vicious cycle of poverty with their families and communities but also their opportunities to education are denied.
She called on leaders to take advantage of the new Parish Development Model to integrate messages on sexual reproductive health in all programmes.
“Use your leadership platforms at all opportunities to talk about sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and access to justice for young girls.”
Dr. Otieno also challenged parents, families, religious and cultural leaders to play their role to nurture and support young people especially when they enter adolescence, and guide them to make informed choices about their reproduction.
NPC Director-General – Dr. Jotham Musinguzi represented by Charles Zirarema, Director, Policy Planning & Programming at NPC Secretariat, called for the utilization of local leaders in the mitigation of the challenge, arguing that the top leaders don’t reach grassroots.
He decried the fact that “these girls are not impregnated by their age mates but by rather old men who should be guiding them.”
Dr. Otieno asked the leaders to develop ordinances and bye-laws that protect young girls from abuse and ensure these are implemented but also appropriate budgets for contraceptives to ensure that those who need the services have access to quality, affordable and acceptable services.
The nation’s World Population Day celebration is expected to be graced by President Yoweri Museveni at Kumi Booma grounds on Monday 11, 2022.