By Esther Makula
Student leaders under the Uganda National Students Association (UNSA) and the United Nations Association in Uganda (UNAU) in Acholi and West Nile sub-regions have committed to advocate for improved service delivery for the in-school youth and increase awareness on Demographic Dividend
John Ampeire, Ag. Principal national programme officer at the National Population Council (NPC) noted that while the continuously growing youthful population of Uganda offers the country a high opportunity for an abundant labour force, creates a challenge of a high dependency burden.
“We have very many young women in the reproduction ages; we already have an inbuilt population momentum. You will not see anything like population reduction in the next 100 years. The population is big because more young women start having children early, and use contraceptives late,” he explained.
Adding, “We must work hard to ensure that these people are healthy, supported to finish their education and can contribute towards the economic development of the country.”
Joshua Thembo, Behavioural Change Communication and Advocacy Manager at Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre (NTIHC) noted that empowering student leaders and young people will help to address the Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights challenges affecting the youth and young people such as unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortions, school dropouts because they are key drivers of change.
“The inability to access accurate and age-appropriate information about their Sexual and reproductive continues to present sexual and reproductive health gaps within the high institutions of learning. We are still seeing unplanned pregnancies because student leaders have not been empowered on Adolescent Health (ADH) and harnessing the Demographic Dividend. If these student leaders are trained on such, they will be able to cascade the same information among their fellow students.,” he explained.
Harnessing the Demographic Dividend
Statistics shared by NPC during the orientation indicate that out of the 44.4 million Ugandans, 16.5 million (37%) are adolescents and young people aged 9-24, and 10.6 million (24%) are youths aged 18-30. The immensely unequal population age structure presents an opportunity of turning the current demographic burden into a development force by harnessing the demographic dividend.
Harnessing the demographic dividend will therefore require building young people`s agency and their ability to be at the centre of the decisions surrounding population dynamics. It also further requires strengthening and working with already existing youth structures and leaderships and as well create safe spaces for dialogue and mentorship.
Student leaders speak out
Francis Okot, Guild President of Gulu University noted, “The students in universities are in a stage of growing, transitioning to adulthood. They need more information so that they can make the right choices.”
Mariah Gorety Afoyorwoth, Guild Finance Minister, 8th Guild Muni University takes pride in the knowledge she acquired during the orientation and pledged to be an advocate for improved service delivery. She said,
“Now that we know that Oli Health Centre in Arua City is being supported by Naguru Teenage Centre, we shall be able to refer students for the service. I will also be able to share with them the toll- free so that they get the necessary services. As a leader, I now stand as a brand ambassador of Naguru, raising the voice of the young people and youth on accessing health services and will be able to advocate for them like the condoms which students are always demanding.”
Fred Okello Ayikobua, Minister for Production and Transport, Muni University and Youth Leader in Madi-Okollo district noted. “I have learnt about the population size, and structure, our roles in making it productive. It needs a collaborative effort and everyone needs to be brought on board.
Meanwhile, Martin Onen Obonyo, the Dean of Holy Gate Christian University, Gulu Branch noted that they are sensitizing the youth more on purity and information to prevent risky behaviour and live responsible lives.