On the 30th of November 2022, Joy for Children –Uganda organized the National Girl Summit t intensifying policy and legal advocacy to protect girls from child marriage and amplify the urgency for adopting girls’ /children’s rights at community and national level.
Joy for Children intentionally gears towards empowerment of both girls and boys with correct information to enable them recognize child marriage and early pregnancy as a gross violation of their rights, and support them to take mitigating actions. Child marriage is one of the significant drivers of adolescent pregnancy in Uganda. 8.9 million Girls aged 10–19 are at risk of harmful practices, including child marriage. This represents nearly 27% of the country’s total population of 35 million; and in a country with the world’s lowest median age of 15 years. A whopping 34% and 7% of girls in Uganda are married before their 18th and 15th birthdays respectively; while 6% of boys are married before their 18th birthday. Child brides are also at major risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV. The risk of maternal death is about 28% higher for mothers aged 15 to 19 than that of mothers aged 20 to 24 (UNFPA, 2020). COVID-19 pandemic led to closure of schools for 2 years which sparked child marriage cases, UNESCO 2021 projections showed that school closure increased the risk of child marriage by 25 per cent per annum.
The event was graced by the presence of the Vice President of Uganda, her Excellency Rtd. Hon.Jessica Alupo who re assured governments commitment towards ending child marriage.
“Child marriage is one of the most known forms of sexual and gender-based violence amongst girls. No child is physically or emotionally ready to become a wife, a husband or a parent”. VP Alupo.
“Uganda ranks as one the countries with higher rates of child and forced marriage. Available statistics indicated that 10% of girls are married off before the age of 15 and 40% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday which constitutes to 50% of young girls indulged into such”. VP Alupo added.
Speaking at the summit, Moses Ntenga who doubles as the National Coordinator of Girls Not Brides Uganda and Executive Director of Joy for Children Uganda stated that about 24% of already married women did it before the age of 18 and about 15% were married at 18, as well there are some cases where boys get married at a tender age.
“We think that this summit should continuously create a platform for stakeholders reflect on issues of child marriage and teenage pregnancy but also commit to address the vice”. Said Mr. Ntenga
The summit aimed at amplifying voices of children and duty bearers in advocating for an end to child marriage and teenage pregnancy, increased learning and knowledge management in tackling the vice and enhanced partnership of stakeholders
Ensuring that all girls and young women receive a quality education is a human right, a global development priority, and a strategic priority for Joy for Children-Uganda.
Education plays a critical role in breaking the cycle of poverty and violence. When girls are kept in school, they stand a better chance of growing into empowered women who transform their neighborhoods and nations. Education is one of the best ways to prevent child marriages and teenage pregnancy.
For many girls in Uganda, education isn’t just important for a brighter future, it’s critical to their survival. Yet, girls often drop out of school simply because they can’t afford feminine hygiene products.
Together, we can change this. On 9th July we joined our patterners Raising Teenagers Uganda on a “Hike for a Girl child” campaign on Kalungu rock in Buyende district to break the stigma around menstruation. The activity also aimed at reducing the dropout rate by providing sanitary products, teaching girls their value and igniting their passion for education.
Both individuals and countries benefit from girls’ education. Better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes.
A recent World Bank study estimates that the “limited educational opportunities for girls, and barriers to completing 12 years of education, cost countries between US$15 trillion1 and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.” All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty.
A lack of education leads to vulnerability. Vulnerability leads to unwanted pregnancy, human trafficking, sexual abuse, domestic violence, HIV, early marriage and a life of no choices.
When we educate girls, we educate a whole nation. Because she will teach everyone around her. The education of girls will result in a better economy and a brighter future along with enhanced confidence of the girl
Household poverty is the major cause of girl child drop in primary schools at the household level. At the community level, girl drop out is largely as a result of engagement in community work while at the school level, the school costs are the leading cause of girl child drop out.
Girls the world over face gender discrimination just for being born a daughter and not a son. A girl’s education is less likely to be valued, and she’s more likely to be forced into early marriage, face violence or be stolen by traffickers. Her childhood cut short her very life and future at risk.
We understand the importance of education for girl children. We do whatever it takes to ensure every last child has a chance to grow up healthy, educated and safe – her best chance for a bright future.
With your help, we can educate girls who may not otherwise have the chance to learn — changing the course of their lives, their children’s lives and the future of their communities.
Joy for Children’s project: Delay Marriage Promote Schooling for Ugandan Girls aims to reach the most vulnerable children, those left behind by the world’s progress in child health, education and protection including girls. Too many girls, because of who they are or where they’re born, face unique challenges. Together, we will improve girl’s education. We will reach every last girl, empowering her to grow up healthy, educated and safe. Free to lead her own life, speak her mind and determine her future.
Uganda is home to 5 million child brides, of these 1.3 million girls are married before age 15 (UNICEF UGANDA). We have a catastrophe on our hands that calls for immediate action .Child Marriage robs girls of their childhood and a right to education and a deprivation to a wide range of human rights: many discontinue with their education, face gender based violence, and suffer serious health risks from early and multiple pregnancies.
The practice is closely linked to Sustainable Development Goals. SDG#2 (Quality Education), girls without any education are three times more likely to marry before 18 years than girls who have attained higher education. This in turn affects efforts to eradicate goal #1 (No poverty), since child brides miss out on the educational and economic opportunities needed to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Government of Uganda has implemented several interventions committed towards ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy including developing the National Strategy to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy 2014/2015 – 2019/2020, a holistic, comprehensive framework that reflected the commitment of Government to end the practice of child marriage.
With the vision of “A society free from child marriage and teenage pregnancy” the national strategy articulated the principles, strategic objectives, actions, coordination mechanisms, and resources that helped ensure effective implementation of the actions to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
In 2020 when the strategy was yet to be renewed, Covid-19 took the world by surprise and changed the way of life necessitating governments to enforce restrictions to curb the spread of the pandemic including closure of schools which considerably contributed to the escalating cases of child marriage and teenage pregnancy, a total of 354,736 cases of teenage pregnancy were registered in 2020 and 196,499 in the first six months of 2021 (UNICEF UGANDA)
Projections by the UNFPA in April 2020 2020 showed that covid-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place globally between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted.
Joy for Children-Uganda convened a national consultative meeting to revise the draft strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage pregnancy 2022/2023-2025/2026 which is yet to be launched on 16th June 2022 on the day of the African child.
The meeting was attended by civil society organizations, Officials from Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, representatives from USAID, UNHCR, UNICEF, Judiciary, ministry of health and Uganda Police
“Today is an important day to input in the work we have been doing to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda. We need to double our efforts more than ever because we have all seen the impact of Covid-19 on the lives of young girls”- Moses Ntenga, Executive Director, Joy for children- Uganda.
The strategy is line with the NDP 111 2020/21-2024/25 which has a strong emphasis on ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy. The ministry has so far conducted 10 regional meetings targeting different stakeholders to share learnings and approaches that can be adopted in the strategy. Poor parenting came out strongly as the root cause of teenage pregnancies which eventually contributes to child marriage; parents have neglected their role as caregivers. For Households living in extreme poverty, child marriage is one of the ways of alleviating the harsh economic crisis brought about by the effects of the pandemic and in some communities; parents do not pay much attention to the upbringing of their children.
“Community gatherings expose children to risks because parents do not pay attention to what they do while at those gatherings” Dr. Azah Taibu, lead consultant.
But there is hope, the ministry of Gender is in the process of the developing the family policy for good parenting. It is strengthening coordination to ensure all key stakeholders are contributing to the development of the policy.
The strategy will provide a framework within which critical challenges to girls’ empowerment will be addressed. The strategy is developed through a participatory process that includes government ministries, local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UN agencies, and other development partners.
According to UNFPA (2021), a total of 345,736 teenage pregnancies were registered in 2020 and a total of 290,219 between January and September 2021, implying an average of over 32,000 teenage pregnancies recorded per month thus amounting to 800 teenage pregnancies per week. The breakout of COVID 19 resulted into continuous lockdowns which led to prolonged closure of schools hence the rise in teenage pregnancies which has become an alarming situation in Uganda.
Closure of schools left many girls vulnerable to teenage pregnancy, early child marriage and violence. Idleness of boys and girls, confined in the same environment, led them into involvement in bad behaviors which sometimes resulted into unwanted pregnancies. Covid 19 also increased poverty rate and some families in order to lessen their financial burdens were forced to marry off their daughters in exchange.
Future generations have been denied of great opportunities that are right ahead of them. In different communities, young girls are facing social discrimination, and often do not get the support they need to compete their studies, get a job and resettle in the society. Social isolation and poverty therefore make them vulnerable to risky behaviors hence laying a financial burden on the society.
On the 3rd December, 2021, senior women leaders in Uganda launched a campaign which was dubbed ‘Protect the Girl, Save the Nation’ to champion against teenage pregnancy and child marriage.
“The fact that teenage pregnancies and defilement cases have risen in the lockdown has exposed the cracks and weaknesses in parenthood in our homes and families. This must change.” Rt. Hon. Nabbanja, the prime minister.
Joy for Children is dedicated to ending child marriage and reducing the number of children especially girls getting married before the age of 18 and therefore, we paid a visit to one of the districts that recently recorded the highest cases of teenage pregnancies. In Kyenjojo district, we met Anita (not real name), a young girl who was pregnant.
“It was one day when my mother sent me for a pack of salt at around 7pm. On my way, behind me, I saw a man who was putting on a cap walking fast towards me. I was scared because I was in an isolated place and couldn’t see any other person around. I increased speed but the next time I tried to look behind again, he was already grabbing me and with a knife, he threatened to kill me if I screamed. He forced me into the nearby bush and raped me and said he would find me and kill me if I told anyone what happened.”
Anita said she was afraid and didn’t report this to her parents but after a few months, they noticed she was pregnant and her chances of going back to school are limited.
Joy for Children provided psycho social support to Anita’s family and also helped her mother to start up a small business. Anita’s mother is so happy for the help she received from Joy for Children and says that this business will continuously help her to raise money to pay her daughter’s school fees.
The government of Uganda has put up a number of policies that should in theory, be useful to prevent and reduce adolescent pregnancies including; setting the minimum age of sexual consent at 18 years, the defilement law against having sex with a girl under 18 years, universal and secondary primary education that offers free basic and secondary education to children, and the National Adolescent Policy. These policies, however, do not seem to have much effect due to lack of knowledge about the policies by the general public.
Uganda recorded a total of 290,219 teenage pregnancies from January to September 2021, translating to over 32,000 monthly (UNFPA UGANDA 2021) and this been highly attributed to the covid-19 induced lockdown where learners were out of school for close to 2 years. Many girls were sexually abused by their relatives, neighbors, teachers and their peers and in some communities; pregnancy was seen as a way out of poverty.
On 10th January 2022, Government of Uganda officially reopened schools for all learners and the right of pregnant and breastfeeding girls to continue with their education evoked emotionally charged discussions across the country in the last few weeks, the discussions are often on issues of morality.
Religious leaders argue that pregnancy out of wedlock is morally wrong, that other children at school will perceive it as being okay which contradicts with religious teachings about sex before marriage but all girls have a right to education irrespective of their race, color, physical ability, motherhood status or pregnancy.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 is clear, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all including elimination of gender disparities, all girls and boys to have equal opportunity, to enjoy education of high quality and enjoy equal benefits from education. Adolescent girls and young women who may be subject to gender based violence; child marriage and early pregnancy require special attention.
Discriminating girls because they are pregnant or breastfeeding is wrong, it is a violation of girls’ rights to education and it is mostly caused by many factors including lack of awareness about re-entry policies in the country and among head teachers that girls can resume school. Even when some girls get lucky to return to school, they are often affected by stigma from their peers and the community, financial constraints and lack of psycho-social support.
State Minister for higher Education, John Chrysostom Muyingo, said it is a government directive that all children should go back to school whether pregnant or breastfeeding but what is not yet clear is how schools are going to implement the directive, while at school for instance whether to provide breast feeding rooms for breastfeeding girls or not.
At Joy for Children-Uganda we advocate for children’s rights including the right to free and quality education for all, We have partnered with Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development Ministry of education and Sports, Parliament of Uganda on several interventions on upholding the rights and safety of the girls including developing the National Strategy to End Child Marriage in Uganda, running a campaign to accelerate progress to end child marriage in Uganda at the height of covid19 pandemic, Enhancing coordination and Learning to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy, supporting the MPs to table a motion in parliament that would among others provide for pregnant / breastfeeding girls to continue their education. From experience we believe regular and effective coordination and capacity enhancement enable actors or partners to further learn with one another and enhance their advocacy efforts.
On1st February, Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) organized a joint press conference with members of the civil society to address issues of escalating cases of teenage pregnancy and the right of pregnant and breast feeding teen mothers return to school. The call was on government to keep its promise of ensuring girls return to school and is safe while there. Mr. Moses Ntenga Executive Director at Joy for Children-Uganda said “Awareness should first be created in communities and encourage people including relatives to raise alarm once they suspect anything fishy happening in their societies
Recommendations to schools and government on re-entry of pregnant and breastfeeding young mothers
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