YOLRED Leads Joint Action to Curb Teen Pregnancy in Uganda

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By Diana Alaroker
Goldin Global Fellow, Uganda

Commemorating the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, YOLRED hosted a roundtable on November 25th to address the increases in teen pregnancies in the Acholi sub-region, a problem which has affected many children since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures.

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The roundtable, held in Gulu, emerged following the release of a report from Human Rights Focus which revealed that at least 4,062 girls were impregnated during the COVID-19 lockdown between March and August 2020. The report was generated from data collected from five districts in the region: Lamwo, Pader, Agago, Nwoya and Amuru. Another report published by UNICEF also revealed that over 1,500 girls were impregnated in nearby Kitgum District.

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Collins Kisembo, YOLRED’s programme coordinator, said as an organisation concerned about children’s welfare, YOLRED organised the discussion to establish the cause of the problem and forge possible solutions. The discussion was attended by representatives from the Acholi cultural institution, the Ker Kwaro Acholi, religious leaders, civil society organizations, Government authorities, as well as some affected teenage girls, including teenage mothers or pregnant teens.

YOLRED adopt a ‘Nothing about us without us’ policy in their activities, so it was essential to include girls impacted by these issues in the discussion. -- Diana Alaroker, YOLRED

During the roundtable, the stakeholders highlighted poverty, negligence of duty by parents, greed among some parents who sell out their daughters, misunderstanding of children’s rights, exposure to improper media content like movies, peer pressure and poor parenting as some of the major causes of the problem. Others also included limited time for parenting, domestic violence, broken families, orphanhood, and negative role models.

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A 19-year-old mother of one, whose name is withheld for confidentiality, stated that she was forced to run away from home after her parents’ divorce, which left her and two other siblings with their alcoholic dad.

“Being the first-born child I had to step up at the age of 16 to become the bread winner for my family, when I started a clothes selling business, my dad kept demanding and borrowing money from me, which he never refunded and then the business collapsed.”

She said when life became too hard, she sent her siblings to their maternal grandmothers house and then eloped with a man she was dating.

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Mrs. Rosalba Oywa, an Acholi social activist and YOLRED board member, said while the COVID-19 lockdown could have created room for the amplification of the problem, teen pregnancies have been a problem among the Acholi people for quite some time.

“During the war we thought it was the result of trauma. But is appears to be turning into a part of us now. Therefore, there is need for immediate action to correct these wrongs because if we don’t do it now then the future of our people will be at stake.” -- Rosalba Oywa

Highlighting the way forward, the Khadi for the Acholi Muslim District, Sheikh Musa Khalil who also doubles as YOLRED’s patron, said there was need for society to return to culturally and religiously respected values. Sergeant Salvin Akiiki, the officer in charge of the Child and Family Protection Unit at the Gulu Central Police Station, said unlike in the olden days when raising a child was a communal task, modern day changes have seen most people, especially landlords, caring less about other people’s children. Thereby, allowing for sexual exploitation of young girls leading to pregnancies. Akiiki said worse still, even when the cases are taken to them, many parents refuse to collaborate with police to have the cases prosecuted. Instead, they get money from the culprits and frustrate the court processes.

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Akiiki therefore proposed that society should reconsider returning to communal raising of children. Other specific recommendations included: formulation of laws that punish parents who expose their children to risk of abuse, strict implementation of existing laws against child molestation, empowerment of cultural institutions to implement cultural laws, severely punishing sexual offenders who abuse girls, networking between governments, cultural institutions and religious organisations, and meaningful partnership and collaborations between government and cultural institutions.

The programme officer in charge of gender at the Ker Kwaro Acoli, Balmoi Caide Okello, appreciated YOLRED for organising the discussion, saying it helped to open the public eyes on the magnitude of the problem. Okello encouraged the participants to use the knowledge they obtained at the discussion to act in their community and help to address the problem starting from individual level. Echoing Okello’s point, Gulu District Probabtion Officer, Goreti Okech, said issues of girl’s education are real, tangible issues which needed attention and total community support. She thanked YOLRED for initiating the discussion and urged everyone to join in supporting young girls and adolescents.

YOLRED will be using the findings from this roundtable to inform their programmes on supporting teen and young mothers, and how they can best implement some of the recommendations into their activities. YOLRED would like to thank Arigatou International for their generous support for this roundtable.

To learn more about this initiative or to support YOLRED, contact the Programme Director, Mr. Omony Geoffrey on: Phone: +256 773 348 688, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Thank you to Olum Douglas for co-authoring this story.

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