ENTEBBE – Uganda has five million child wives; 1.3 of whom were married off below the age of 15 years, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF.
“Child marriage increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, which can have a profound effect on the health and lives of young women and contribute to high fertility rates. Current evidence shows that 25 per cent of the 1.2 million pregnancies recorded in Uganda annually are from teenage mothers, with more than 300,000 pregnancies ending in unsafe abortions. While these statistics are gloom, only one in 5 (21 per cent) of girls aged 15—19 are currently using any modern contraceptive method, and the risks of maternal death are even higher among teenage mothers, about 28 per cent.
“Child marriage violates the basic rights of girls and women. It is rooted in social and gender inequality and a desire to control women’s bodies and lives,” notes, report in parts.
Speaking at the launch and dissemination workshop of the second National Strategy to end Child Marriages and Teenage Pregnancies – NSCMTP in Entebbe on Tuesday, Vedasto Nsanzungwanko, the Chief of the section of Child Protection, said that at a national level – 34 per cent of the marriages were females – married off before clocking 18.
Karamoja has the highest prevalence of child marriages, accounting for 50 per cent while Kampala ranks among the good performers with less than 20 per cent. Ninety-five per cent of the girls who were married off at between 15 to 17 years were not attending school.
The official explained that the number of teenage pregnancies was also disturbing. Quoting the District Health System Information tool – 2021, Nsanzungwanko who represented the UNICEF Uganda country representative, said a quarter of Ugandan girls aged between 15 to 19 years had already begun childbearing.
During the same period, 51,000 girls got pregnant. Looking at maternal health, Nsanzungwanko said 28 per cent of maternal deaths involved child mothers.
“That an absurd situation impacted Uganda’s development efforts as a huge section of the population has their education cut short, robbing them of the capacity to make informed decisions about their future,” he said.
Nsanzungwanko said girl child rights must be prioritised at the national planning and budgeting level if the country was to achieve its obligations and targets under the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The official implored traditional, religious, civil society, private sector, and opinion leaders to be champions against the vice of child marriage and teenage pregnancies.
He pledged UNICEF’s continued support to Uganda to protect children against sexual, physical, and emotional violence. He added that synergy of all players was required. The Minister for Youth and Children’s Affairs, Nyirabashitsi Sarah Mateke observed that the COVID-19 lockdown had exacerbated the abuse of the rights of children with the year 2020 seeing 354,736 teenage pregnancies registered while 2021 registered 209,212 cases.
Uganda, she disclosed ranked sixteenth among the twenty-five countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Teenage pregnancies, she explained accounted for 28% of school drop-out.
Explaining the gravity of the problem of child abuse, the minister cited the police crime report for 2021 which reported 14,000 defilement cases. Of these, she reported that 281 of the culprits were HIV-positive, 122 were guardians, 107 were parents and 60 were teachers.
The implementation of the second NSCMTP 2023-2025 to address the dire situation, Nyirabashitsi said, would involve legal reforms, strengthening family and parenting, building community capacity, confronting negative social, religious, and cultural beliefs, increasing uptake of quality social services in justice, health and education.
Other activities include strengthening birth certification and registration, research, and data collection, economic empowerment of families, multi-sectoral planning, and more engagement of partners to ensure the strategy is fully implemented.
Commenting about the delayed implementation of the strategy, the permanent secretary Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Aggrey Kibenge, who represented the line minister, cited lack of funding as the biggest challenge. The strategy was first launched in Butaleja seven months ago.
The minister commended development partners UNICEF, CDC, World Vision, USAID, and Save the Children Fund among others for having made putting the strategy together possible. The PS underscored the need for different government departments to work together to end the vice.
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