FEATURE. “I messed up, I realised it and came back to my parents, and they were very good and put me back in school”, A minor from one of the schools in Omugo Sub County said.
She by press time is a candidate awaiting to sit her Ordinary level examinations and hopes to continue in school for as long as her parents can still support her.
At the end of her short testimony, a sombre mood filled the room, she had been given a second chance after pregnancy but what she equally had to go through before getting that second chance was disturbing to say the least.
Unfortunately, not every girl in her community ends up lucky once they have “messed up”, most of them never have a second chance, actually many of their parents overcome with pride easily push their young daughters into marriage life.
The COVID-19 pandemic fuelled an already worrying trend in many communities in West Nile and the result? A time bomb waiting to explode if no drastic measures are taken.
Scope of the problem
Mr Richard Obia, the district community development officer (DCDO) of Arua/Terego district says the trend is so alarming and requires action.
He says parents are the major obstacle in the fight against the vice, they often do not report the cases but end up negotiating with the abusers of the young girls to marry them off.
“The parents are not bothered, instead of getting concerned that their children are abused, they sneak and want to settle the cases and yet an abuse related to sex is a criminal offence and is against the state”, Obia laments.
He revealed some damning statistics showing that in the greater Arua that includes the new Terego district, 606 cases of teenage pregnancies were reported in January, 589 in February, 580 in March, 618 in April, 729 in May, 703 in June, 603, 571 and 467 in July, August and September respectively.
Mr Philliam Osuta, the programs officer of the civil society organization (CSO) save the Maracha girl says uncooperative parents have made it extremely difficult to fight child marriage in the district.
“There is a particular case of a young girl in primary five who was forced to marry a man of more than 35 years just because she was speaking to the man at the road side” Mr Osuta narrates.
“The girl wasn’t pregnant neither was there a case of sexual abuse but the parents suspected that they must have been involved in something of that sort and decided to marry her off instead of giving her guidance”, Osuta laments.
Mr Stephen Adiga, the social welfare officer Odupi sub county says apart from the negative beliefs of getting bride wealth from the marriage of girls, the situation is worsened by alcoholism and polygamy.
“Most fathers who are supposed to advise the children are absent from their homes leaving the children to decide for themselves, this is compounded by the excessive drinking by both the women and men” Adiga who also revealed damning statistics from the sub county says.
In their annual compilation, over 764 cases of teenage pregnancies had so far been registered in only three Health centres as the count goes on.
NGO’s efforts
The department of community services is often one of the most poorly funded that officers barely have enough fuel to move to the communities for sensitization.
This bare lack of funds from the government institutions leaves the bulk of the weight in the fight against teenage pregnancies to Non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations (CSO’s).
Mr Godfrey Dricile, the executive director of community empowerment for transformation action- west Nile (CEFTRA-WN) says the focus must now change to addressing the root causes of teenage pregnancies.
“There is no way one is going to fight teenage pregnancy if the parents are still very poor and see their children as a source of wealth, so we want to start by empowering the parents in income generating activities” He says.
His organization works closely with more than 80 others spread across the country under the ‘girls not brides’ project that fights teenage pregnancies and marriages.
Coordinated by Joy for children, the CSO’s including save the Maracha girl, Amani, CEFTRA, etc. find themselves in the midst of a worsening war despite the efforts.
Elders, religious and opinion leaders are also targeted in the new approach, A research (September-December) was conducted to identify the issues Joy for Children and the other partners want the findings to inform their next programming.
Not long ago, the Mentoring and Empowerment program for young Women (MEMPROW)-Uganda through their ‘Accelerating Progress to End Child Marriage in Uganda’ project rallied stake holders in a similar fight.
The police have continually laid the blame for unreported cases and negative cultural practices that make it difficult for the force to arrest perpetrators.
However, the populace has equally condemned the police for conniving with perpetrators on many occasions especially the influence.
The civil society must surely be applauded for their efforts but how much and how far can they go with this fight? If all others do is to trade blames and spectate?
The “Million-dollar” whose answer is needed as urgent as now.