By Anne Mugisa and Violet Nabatanzi
DOCTORS have complained that defilement is being sweet coated as “early marriage” which is helping the vice to persist.
According to Dr. Collins Tusingwire, the Acting Commissioner for Reproductive Health, the correct term of defilement which connotes criminality should be used for the practice instead of calling it marriage. And it should also be punished.
He said doctors express frustration due to the increasing numbers health cases involving girls who are married off by parents and guardians as well as those tricked into such unions by men. Uganda is one of the countries said to have the highest number of child marriages.
Dr. Tusingwire was speaking at press conference on this year’s Safe Motherhood day whose theme is, Teenage Pregnancy is an obstacle to safe motherhood: let us stop it!
Almost two million Ugandan minors are forced or lured into alleged marriage, according to an African human social development report presented at the Women Deliver international conference in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year.
The report is compiled from statistics gathered in 2010 to 2012 from UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and World Bank.
Uganda falls among the 15 worst African countries with high numbers of child brides. At 46% of underage girls below 18 forced or lured in marriage, it is in the eleventh position while Niger tops the list at 75% followed by Chad with 72% of child marriages.
According to the study, the countries with the worst child marriage scores also have the highest maternal mortality ratios and highest adolescent fertility and constitute the greater majority of people living with HIV.
In these countries, women constitute between 55% and 75% of all adults living with HIV and they have the highest child mortality rates.
Every day 38,000 girls are forced into early marriage, destroying their lives. Usually, there is a wide age gap between the child brides and their said husbands. The number is part of the millions of girls forced into early marriage globally every year.
This stands in stark contradiction of the country’s stated stand on child protection from sexual abuse. The Ugandan constitution and other legislation clearly spell out the age of consent as well as defilement. But the research showed that Uganda, like other African countries with a high number of child marriages, is lax on the culprits and on implementation of the law.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health announced a new move to stem teenage pregnancies at least in schools. Minister Sarah Opendi said Health Corners will be established in schools for counseling students on sexuality and how to avoid peer pressure that forces them into early sexual activity.
She said children will not be provided with contraception, but those in tertiary institutions may. The Big girls in lower levels could also be given information on where to seek those services if they are likely to be in danger of engaging is sexual activity.
Opendi told journalists yesterday that the Ministry is baffled by runaway teenage pregnancies and resultant high mortality and morbidity rates. She said a very high number of girls undergo abortions which results in their deaths, grave illness or disability. She said that 297,000 to 300,000 illegal abortions take place annually in Uganda.
The WHO study indicated that early marriages and the resultant pregnancies are the biggest cause of deaths among 15 to 19 year old girls, accounting for 20% of maternal deaths. Those who survive the pregnancies suffer lasting complications like fistula and disability.
Opendi said yesterday that the health corners will provide sexuality education to students starting from upper primary in order for them to manage peer pressure that influences them into early sex. She said that children should be helped to delay sex until they are over 18 years old.
“Complete abstinence from sex is the best way of preventing teenage pregnancy. Say no to early sex,” Opendi said at a press conference to announce the plan and the celebrations to mark the International day for safe motherhood. Opendi jointly addressed a press conference with the UNFPA Country Representative, Esperance Fundira at the Ministry headquarters in Kampala.
This year’s national celebration will be held in Apac District today under the theme, Teenage pregnancy is an obstacle to safe motherhood: Let us stop it now!
Making teenage pregnancies the focus of this year’s Safe Motherhood campaign, is hoped to reduce the overall maternal mortality rates in the country by at least 20%, according to Opendi. The number of Ugandan women who die due from pregnancy related causes are 438 out of 100,000 live births.
Opendi said that the Ministry of Health is committed to reducing maternal mortality rates by 75% to 131 women per 100,000 live births in two years.
The Minister also said that the Ministries of Health and Education are also making a policy for retention of girls who fall pregnant in schools. She said that the policy will compel schools to readmit young mothers.
She also said that generally, the Ministry will also start campaigns in districts to increase uptake of contraception to reduce the high fertility rates which contribute to maternal mortality and morbidity.
She said that Government and donors have put in a lot of money into stocking contraceptives which are stuck at the National medical Stores despite the 34% unmet need for the services. She said that the Ministry is also reviewing the Village Health Teams Policy guideline so that the teams could counsel women.