We are living in a fast changing world in which attitudes towards sexuality and procreation are evolving by the day, a situation in which globally 20,000 girls below the age of 18 give birth daily according to the State of the World Population Report 2013. Given its current demographics, Uganda is an extremely young country in international comparisons with 48 percent comprising of young people less than 15 years of age. Coupled with a higher birth rate Uganda is one of the countries with the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Africa standing at 24%.
Cited causes of teenage pregnancy in Uganda are linked to early sexual exposure for the girl, forced child marriages, coerced first sexual intercourse, family situations for the adolescent girls and limited access to sexuality education and reproductive health services. A recent study by UNFPA indicates that 49% of Ugandan girls are married off before their 18th birthday a factor that contravenes the constitution of the Republic of Uganda which consents marriage at the age of 18. Other factors include among others the inadequate life and livelihood skills especially assertive and avoidance skills, older men taking advantage of young girls, poor parenting styles, abusive media and limited educative media reaching out especially to most vulnerable areas.
Teenage pregnancy is also worsened by the cultural beliefs and social stigma related to teenage pregnancies in which most if not all schools in Uganda, discontinue teenage girls from continuing with education, as soon as they establish that the girls have become pregnant. A closer look at our education system in as far as sexuality education is concerned; students rely on self-education from peers without adequate and professional guidance and counseling on sex education. Thus, majority of the adolescents lack assistance in sexual decision making skills and have limited connection to their families and schools are resulting into increased risky sexual activities, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS, STI and STDs and even death due to maternal-related complications.
Additionally, Sexual and reproductive health programs provided in some cases also tend to ignore the social, cultural and economic factors that prevent young people from making healthy decisions and that contribute to their vulnerability to poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes, exposure to HIV, sexual violence and undesired or unsafe pregnancy. Many young people are also denied access to information and support that would enable them to protect their own sexual and reproductive health.
Teenage pregnancy has thus been bled by attitudes, several myths and misconceptions among teenagers as well as general complacency that surround sexuality amongst most communities in rural Uganda. Adolescent premarital pregnancies, childbearing and teenage mortality rate is a cornerstone obstacle and a community concern and therefore remains a major social, health, financial and economic sabotage in Uganda.
In order to avert this hitch, there is a need to have a compressive sexual Education culturally, socially and in politically acceptable ways streamlined within existing institutions such as schools. This will change the rigid mindset among adult gate keepers such as parents, teachers, the community and religious leaders who still think that sexual and reproductive information is not age appropriate for adolescents. We also need to instill into young adolescents especially girls right from childhood with concepts of leadership, emotional intelligence and critical thinking. This will go a long way in empowering them in decision making processes so that they make informed and responsible life choices such as delaying sex at an early age.
In a nutshell, Adolescent stage marks a critical time of development of a young person because it is a period of dramatic physical, cognitive, hormonal as well as social changes that occur in the body which ultimately translates into one’s identity. Targeting adolescent at an early stage will thus make them delay child bearing, live healthier and productive lives and reach their full potentials in life.
By Kaviri Ali
Social media activist