GERALD KORANEZA: Uganda’s Economic and Social Burden of Teenage Pregnancy
The third National Development Plan (NDP III) explicitly articulates that Uganda’s main Demographic Dividend harnessing strategy is built around ensuring that the adolescents are healthy, properly educated, and appropriately skilled to take up the jobs that will be created in the economy. The bedrock of achieving this strategy is rapid fertility decline, arising mainly from young people delaying marriage and childbirth as they complete their education and build their careers, which will trigger the age structure transformation and in turn, ensure Uganda realizes the Demographic Dividend.
The report on the cost of inaction of teenage pregnancy by the Uganda National Population Council shows that eight in every ten children (84%) are sexually abused in the afternoons and evenings, mainly on the roadside and in natural fields. This sexual abuse predisposes them to pregnancy and explains the unchanging level of teenage pregnancy in Uganda. According to the Health Management Information System (HMIS), teenage pregnancy contributed to nearly two million births in Uganda between 2016 and 2020 giving an average of 30,000 Teenage births per month.
Teenage pregnancy is a public threat and growing concern that needs to be put on Uganda’s agenda. There is a growing rate of children dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancies with its associated results. For a long time, the school policy has been to expel pregnant girls from schools, thus terminating their education. Although there seems to be a softening of this policy stance, particularly during the COVID-19 period, its implementation is still unclear and there is still a lingering social stigma against teenage pregnancy that will almost ensure that girls drop out of school. Early pregnancy or childbirth can be dangerous to the mother and to her child since some young girls may not be physiologically mature enough to give birth at an early age. In some cases, young women have turned to unsafe abortions with their associated problems.
The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) showed that the neonatal mortality rate among infants born to teenage mothers was 55 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 25 per 1,000 among infants born to mothers aged 20 – 29 years. The report highlights that teenage mothers were found to be contributing a disproportionately larger share in the country’s maternal mortality situation. It is estimated that teenage pregnancy is responsible for about 19.8%) of the Infant deaths.
According to the World Bank’s tenth Uganda Economic Update (2021), girls who are married or have children at a young age experience poor health, have had more children over their lifetime, and have held low productivity and low-paying jobs during adulthood. Teenage mothers are three times less likely to have professional jobs and twice more likely to be self-employed in agriculture. About half of the teenage mothers (47%) are peasants in subsistence agriculture. Only 5% of teenage mothers are employed in professional occupations thus a burden to the country’s economy.
A study on the cost in action of teenage pregnancy shows that families of all teenage mothers in 2020 spent Ug.shs.689.9 billion (194 million USD) on babies to complete secondary education. Such costs would have been averted if there were no teenage pregnancies. The study further illustrates teenage pregnancies have led to a financial burden on the household pointing out that a teenage mother and her child’s health care spend an estimate of Ug.shs.992, 426 (280 USD). It’s imperative to note that the per capita expenditure for minor health care of a child per episode is estimated at Ug.shs. 29,645 (8 USD).
We, therefore, advocate for government investment in adolescent girls’ education as a game changer in harnessing demographic dividends as well articulated in the third national development plan. Addressing the substantial risks and suffering faced by adolescent girls and their children will also produce huge economic gains and reduce social burdens through strategic policies that impact the live hoods of teenage mothers.
Gerald Koraneza is a Research and Policy Associate at the Population and Social Development Institute (firstname.lastname@example.org )