Girls and Adolescence in Uganda today.
Story by: Prince Wako
“The combination of early marriage, or pregnancy and school dropout has a significant impact on the skill development of any girl”
With systematic and well thought out national policies, Uganda has made vivid progress in terms of initiating campaigns geared towards poverty reduction, expanding opportunities for girl child education and improving gender equality in the local communities across the country. That being the case, there are still significant factors that we need to tackle in order to realize meaningful development. Different national survey data shows that many adolescents are still living in poverty and are deprived of full education attainment. This is so because they are forced into early marriages that result into early pregnancies hence limiting social values and customs. Remember adolescents stand in the middle of childhood and adulthood and therefore face unique challenges as they strive to develop their capabilities. If handled well and empowered accordingly, this group of young people can significantly contribute to the development of the nation since they provide the beat and hope in most families. We therefore must look at the positive side of the current situation with aims to increase educational attainment and enrolling more teenage girls in school. secondly we need to examine prevailing social and cultural values that promote child marriage and early child bearing. To this we must provide viable solutions.
While at campus, I was introduced to various friends, with whom I used to hang out during the end of year holidays. One particular friend, Jonathan introduced me to a clique of boys, several of whom were young fathers. I immediately felt out of place, but did not want to be perceived as a proud actor given the fact that most of them had not made it to campus. Some of these were village mates with whom we grew up. Zahara, aged sixteen was one girl they always talked about. She had successfully passed her Primary Leaving Examinations, but her mother, being a single parent was not in the position to support her education further. The fellow, Jonathan was itching to get her pregnant no matter the circumstances, so that she could become his wife, without him going through the “formal processes”. Surprisingly Zahara’s Story made rounds throughout the year, this intensely caught my attention. At times I thought of her being a promiscuous girl and I thought she was also playing along. Looking at the local community settings, I was no shocked by what I heard but later time proved me otherwise.
One day, while I took a lone evening walk, I visited a local bar, there I saw one elderly lady preparing snacks for her customers. I remember it was chips and sausages. The bar was not that busy but she did her work in anticipation of more customers as the sun said its goodbyes. Ordering two sausages and a bottle of cold beer, I sat and waited to be served. The lady called out for someone to serve me, the name that rung through my ears was ‘Zahara’. I was like, this surely sounds familiar. Zahara was surely an attractive young girl and from what I gathered at that moment, her mother was really trying all that she could to get finances for her family. On the other hand Zahara swiftly responded to her mother’s calls with respect. Instead of being excited, my heart drowned in sadness, on the thought of what the boys were secretly planning to do. The fact that she stuck by her mother and helped her sell the snacks no matter how demeaning many girls of her age would term it, encouraged me. Well at that time I could not do much to save the situation but this is a reality many adolescent girls across the country find themselves entangled in. They are faced with situations where their boyfriends lure them into situations of early pregnancy which limits their opportunities in terms of education. The last time I heard about Zahara is around 10 years ago, her mother had successfully managed to keep her in Nile vocational School for a year and I want to believe she made it out with conquering success.
Whereas the constitution of Uganda provides for rights of children and prohibits marriages of persons below the age of 18, early marriages In Uganda persists for adolescent girls. Even when some parents try to keep their children out of it, many have found themselves in marriage by co-habiting. In such instances, girls run away from their parents’, homes with lame excuses and only re-appear when they are pregnant. Disappointed parents are left helpless and sometimes with limited options, negotiate with the family of the boy for compensation fees, this translates into bride price and a formal marital relationship. Many have given up on school under such circumstances. These relationships are also fueled by the levels of poverty in homes, some girls will get into relationships for material benefits or essential benefits like sanitary pads. On the other hand, I have personally noticed that the level of education of girls in some communities in Uganda has increased the value of their bride price. So the excuse of parents forcing their daughters to drop out of school at the expense of getting bride price is no longer valid.
We as a people have to look at our families with keen interest in economic development. We need to improve our family livelihoods in order to keep our family incomes high. The income livelihood status in a family will play a significant role in determining the kind of marriage and the process that our daughters or sisters go through in order to get to the marriage of their choice. There is a higher likelihood that economically stable parents will not look at their daughters as primarily sources of bride pride price as opposed to poverty stricken parents. So economically stable families should be challenged to empower their daughters to realize their full transformative potential of education. This should act as a benchmark to other families to strive to attain economic transformation so as to keep all their children in school regardless of the prevailing circumstances.
Policies should put emphasis on vocational institutions. Secondly responsible institutions should implement policies that encourage providing opportunities for young mothers to go back to school after giving birth. On several occasions, while national examinations are underway, Media houses telecast bulletins with news related to girls that sat for exams while pregnant, such scenarios should not be taken lightly. There are several underlying factors to learn from. Despite such circumstances, the girls should be given chance to complete their education, their persistence to such an extent shows their will to succeed in the academic arena. Whereas University education might be expensive, vocational education should be used as a driving force. Attaining skills from vocational institutions can keep the girls busy. Such institutions have given birth to successful female entrepreneurs in the fields of catering, confectionery and life coaching.
Parenting skills should be re- visited to deal with the social chaos that exists in the society right now. The rise of the desire for immorality has chained many adolescents due to peer pressure and lack of proper mentorship. Imagine, girls who marry young, or those in cohabiting relationships, usually find themselves in positions of relative powerlessness as they have not yet completed their education or developed their confidence to maximum potential. The combination of early marriage, or pregnancy and school dropout has a significant impact on the skill development of any girl. The burden of child caring, and engagement of household activities and taking care of the needs of a husband are psychologically demanding and thus a source of stress to the adolescent wife.
Having taken the oath of Empowering the girl child, we at Princewako foundation strive to look for any hindrances to the full development of a girl child in different communities. We gather our strength from the need to transform our societies in whole by looking for possible solutions to the challenges that are unearthed each passing day. We challenge you to get up and stand with the girl child, do something to encourage, empower, and mentor the development of an adolescent girl child. Remember the silent satisfaction that comes from accomplishing something, breads unimaginable happiness.