KAMPALA – Naguru Teenage Information and Health Center (NTIHC) has taken on an initiative to equip youth leaders in Uganda with the necessary skills to battle and put an end to teenage pregnancies and Gender-Based Violence – GBV in the country.
During a two-day capacity-building dialogue with youth leaders on the implementation of advocacy commitments made on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights – SRHR, GBV and Sexuality Education happening at Garuga Country Resort, Entebbe, the leaders were tasked to disseminate accurate SRHR information and services to increase awareness and empower young people to make the right decisions and choices that will enable them to avert teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
The dialogue is aimed at providing a platform for cross-learning, sharing and accountability among the youth leaders from the selected regions but also strengthening the capacity of youth leaders to influence SRH/GBV policy and the national and regional levels.
Mr. Sam Asiimwe – Head of Programs at the Center said that they are working with youth leaders from National Youth Council (NYC), Uganda National Students Association (UNSA) and the Uganda Parliamentarians Forum on Youth Affairs (UPFYA) together with the Ministry of Health and Gender as well as UNFPA to ensure that the girl child can live to explore their full potential without any forms of harassment.
“So the youth leaders have been trained on social accountability and how they can hold duty bearers accountable for services that should focus on youth, from health services to livelihood programs, to development initiatives like PDM to see that youth integrated, they meaningfully participate and actually they benefit out of those programs, and they are empowered through those programs to live better, healthier lives, but also live fulfilling lives in terms of having a quality life, having economic empowerment, and participating meaningfully in leadership positions.”
“So after this engagement, we expect them to implement action plans that they drafted to ensure that there is quality health care, targeting young people across the regions in the country,” he added.
To make this happen, Mr. Asiimwe noted that these leaders are expected to engage with the district health teams to put in place mechanisms to ensure quality services that meet the expectations of the users.
The youth leaders have also been tasked to skill healthcare providers that are responsive to the needs of young people without discriminating against anyone.
“They [leaders] will be looking out for commodities, supplies that are expected as we deliver services are actually available. So they will appraise the logistics system at the local government level to see if these health units have reproductive health commodities, or family planning commodities available and meet the standards.
“So, we are expecting them to go back and evaluate the quality of services and work hand in hand with the health system at that level to improve the quality of services,” said Asiimwe.
Mr. Otto Wilson – Secretary General National Youth Council commended the Center for capacity building, noting that it tackled the core issues that affect the young people of the country.
As national leaders, he noted that they have always had issues with teenage pregnancy, menstrual hygiene, child marriage, and drug abuse among others.
“When you check the statistics, about 25% of our girls get pregnant before they make 18 years. That’s a big challenge for the country.”
“But also when you check, between 34% and 40% of the girls in Uganda get married before 18 years. This also cuts across other challenges like menstrual hygiene management, which is a challenge in most of our schools,” he added.
Mr. Otto is optimistic that this initiative will be productive to achieve its intended results.
“As youth leaders, we should take meaningful participation and always be present to fight these issues. Be present in your schools to talk to the young girls. Be present in the communities where you have your colleagues and talk to them about this danger. Let them know the danger of getting married.”
Mr. Mondo Kyateeka, the commissioner in charge of children’s affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development revealed that a lot is being done by the government to provide an enabling environment for civil society organizations to help in handling teenage pregnancies.
“Last year, during the African Child, we launched a strategy to end child marriage and teenage pregnancies in Uganda and this document is a multi-sectoral strategy that engages everybody from civil society organizations to traditional and cultural leaders, to religious leaders, to the parents of the children, to everybody, the children themselves – they have a role to play, not to fall prey for to people who are going to make them pregnant; they have to be inquisitive.”
He recognized the empowerment of youth leaders and called for the engagement of the children themselves to be part of the solution.
“We believe in the asset-based approach to youth programming, where we don’t look at people as targets to be met by the people. So, engaging them into discussing what ought to be done, and how it ought to be done is extremely critical.”
Mr. Mondo noted that failure to engage them then you are likely to draw interventions that may not respond to the problems being found.
He called for continued awareness for people to produce a few children whom they can take care of with ease.
Although teenage pregnancies vice escalated during the Covid era, Mondo noted that the numbers are now reducing.
“It was actually 25% [before]. During Covid, it went about 35%. There were 6000 teenage pregnancies on average in every district. 1052 children were getting pregnant every day across the country and that was just unacceptable. So right now the numbers are decreasing, because the environment has changed.”
Ms. Olivia Kiconco – Senior Program Officer – ADH at the Ministry of Health said they have committed to provide adolescent-responsive health services.
“In this, we are strengthening health literacy among all the adolescents. I mean, ensuring that young people have the right information, they are knowledgeable about all the matters of health, including sexual reproductive health, promoting equitable access and supply of quality of quality preventive and curative health services.”
She also welcomed youth participation in health service delivery, noting that her ministry is strengthening the health system to ensure that they are able to engage youths but also providing the enabling policies so that young people can access health services.
Kiconco revealed that they have empowered health workers to also go out of facilities and go to schools and in the communities, including having providers in schools like peer educators.
“We also use internet-based information systems. We have the SMS platforms, portals, and sites – all those are mechanisms that we are trying to use to deliver to the people.”
In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Kiconco noted that they have curriculum-based sexuality education where teachers are trained to provide different components of sexuality education, depending on the age and the classroom level.
Mr. Jacob Eyeru – Chairperson, National Youth Council noted that a lot has been done but there are still gaps at the community level.
“When it comes to gender-based violence and teenage pregnancies, we have done enough policy work in the country that addresses these things head-on. But at the community level, we don’t have enough activity by community leaders.”
“The other gap that I see is also in how we protect people that are victims and are willing to report because many of the cases that we have with gender-based violence are reoccurring cases. So if we are not able to guarantee that for those abusers that come out to report, then we might not be able to do away with that,” he added.