ALEBPTONG – Uganda on Tuesday, July 11, 2023, joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Population Day.
The national celebrations were held in Alebtong District under the theme “Prioritize education, prevent school dropouts and improve household incomes”. The event was graced by President Yoweri Museveni represented by his Vice President, Jessica Alupo.
At the event, the United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA noted that although at the lower primary level, gender parity has been achieved, dropout rates remain at the upper primary and secondary levels.
Dr. Mary Otieno, UNFPA Country Representative says that early school drop out in late primary and early secondary school years, stand in the way of many girls to acquire marketable skills and career formation for turning the country’s abundant human resources into human capital.
This, she says makes it more difficult for the country to improve livelihoods and stay on course for harnessing the demographic dividend and subsequently attaining Uganda’s vision 2040.
“Allow me, your Excellency to reiterate your call for compulsory primary and secondary education is one way to stop high school dropout rates. Education opens opportunities for individual girls, their families, and communities out of poverty especially when girls acquire skills, have access to paid employment and can earn, save, and invest in their future.”
She added, “When girls are able to access sexual reproductive health information at the appropriate age, stay in school for a minimum of 11 years, they are empowered to make decisions on when to marry, start childbirth and to chart the path of their own life. This will therefore ensure that no one is left behind.”
Dr. Otieno underscored the need to accelerate the advancement of gender equality – through access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, improved education, appropriate labour policies, and equitable norms in the workplace and home – which will, in turn, result in healthier families, stronger economies, and resilient societies.
She commended the government for its strategies like the `Revised Guidelines on the prevention and management of teenage pregnancies in school settings, however, noting that a lot needs to be done especially on the implementation part.
Dr. Fred Wabwire-Mangen – National Population Council – Board Chairman revealed that in Uganda, 64% of girls are having sex before 18 and 34% are getting married before 18 years.
This, he said translates to 1000 teenage pregnancies average per day in Uganda.
Lango sub-region, he noted records 28% teenage pregnancy.
In 2021, news reported a total of 23,000 teenage girls impregnated in Lango sub-region in one year; Oyam registered the highest cases of teenage pregnancies with 4.448 cases, followed by Lira with 3,871, Kole registered 3,186. Dokolo 2,363 Kwania 2,332 and Alebtong 2,190, Amolatar registered 1,939 cases, among others.
Dr. Wabwire noted that according to Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU 2023), poor access to contraceptives spiraled up teenage pregnancy in Lango sub-region.
“Other factors include poverty, ignorance, negative peer pressure, Parental negligence of parenting roles, negative cultural practices and norms; marrying off young girls, unmet need for family planning which was at 40.8% in 2019 (health), low access to adolescent health friendly services and sexual, reproductive health services.”
“It is worth noting that promotion of girl child education until completion, law enforcement against perpetrators of teenage pregnancy, community sensitization on negative cultural practices and the repercussions of teenage pregnancy, empowering both in and out of school adolescent girls and boys with age sensitive sexuality education and life skills, rehabilitation for teenage pregnancy victims, increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services and strengthening social protection policies and laws will reduce teenage pregnancy and increase school retention and completion for both girls and boys,” he urged.
At the event, the youth decried the lack of education and employment opportunities.
According to the National Labour Force Survey (NLFS) of 2016/ 2017, about 41% of youth in Uganda were ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’. 50.5% of these are Females while 29% are Males. The same report done in 2021 notes that 49.3 per cent of the youth in the Lango sub-region, were not in Employment, Education, or training.
This, they say calls for urgent intervention as a lack of education and employment opportunities is a risk factor towards rising rates of risky behaviors some of which can lead to teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
“As youth leaders, we are tired of seeing our fellow youth dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancy and most of them being forced into early marriages. The gains and investment in UPE and USE are being lost with teenage pregnancies. We cannot reach our full potential if we have babies looking after babies instead of being at school. We cannot as youth say we are moving forward in our region if our young sisters are being left behind,” said Ms. Among Shakila – Deputy Speaker Lira City.
“Therefore, we call upon the government to increase investment in young people to ensure we are healthy, educated, skilled, empowered and productive. We need girls and boys to stay longer in school and support the transition to secondary and tertiary education.”
In his speech, Museveni said that this year’s theme is in line with the priorities of his government, to guarantee education, for all children; good health, for all people and jobs and wealth, for all the homesteads in Uganda.
“The population must be educated and highly skilled; healthy i.e., free of diseases, in order to increase their life expectancy; and embrace the modernity of working for money, in the four sectors of commercial agriculture, industries, services and ICT.”
“Therefore, it is on account of the NRM’s early interventions, to improve access to maternal health and immunizing the children against the killer diseases, that Uganda’s population has managed to grow from 14 million people, in 1986 to 48 million people, now. Life expectancy has also risen from 43 years in 1986 to 64 years, now. The youths, under the NRM, are fully vaccinated; they are no longer dying of preventable diseases,” he added.
In relation to education, Museveni said they are now reaping dividends from the Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) programmes, which were introduced earlier.
He, however, acknowledged the need to bridge the skills-gap, in educational system, which he said is largely oriented towards white-collar jobs.
“Teachers, parents and guardians should help the young people to select courses in the science fields e.g. medicine, engineering, nursing, computing, science teachers etc.”
Museveni said that the mismatch between the education system and the job market, in the private sector accounts for the high rates of unemployment among the young people, calling for aligning the university and tertiary courses with the requirements of the private sector.
“Public service jobs are very few and limited. The thinking that everyone must have a public service job, is misplaced today. It was valid in the past, when Uganda had only one University-Makerere University, with an enrolment of only 5,000 students. Since the NRM liberalised the educational sector, private entities e.g. religious groups, individuals etc., have helped to expand access to education, at all levels.”
He called for bridging of the skillsgap as the best way to solve the problem of youth unemployment, noting that the large numbers of graduates, from both the private and public universities, can only be absorbed by the private sector.