By Ritah Mwagale
Uganda seemed to be on track in reducing teenage pregnancy rates from 1995 to 2005. The number of pregnant teenagers reduced from 4 in 10 in 1995 to 1 in 4 in 2005 but has since then stagnated.
Teenage pregnancy is a major contributor to Uganda’s grim maternal death statistics because about 50% of women who die as a result of labour, pregnancy and child birth are teenage girls. According to information from UNFPA, pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 years. Since their bodies are not mature enough to carry pregnancies and to stand the rigors of child birth, teen girls are prone to obstructed labour, severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortions which are the leading causes of maternal deaths in Uganda.
Uganda is a signatory to the eight (8) United Nations Millennium Development Goals including Goal number five that aims at reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent between the years 1990 and 2015. Sadly, Uganda may not meet MDG five if factors fuelling teenage pregnancy are not adequately addressed.
We therefore need to move beyond talk and ask ourselves why in this day and age and in this information era one out of four teenage girls in Uganda are still getting pregnant?
Researchers have provided us with the answers. They range from lack of sexuality education, poverty, gender inequality, lack of formal education, forced and early marriages.
So if the causes are known to us, why is the problem still persisting? It points to an implementation challenge. In almost all researches, one of the key recommendations highlighted is the inadequate access to correct and consistent sexuality information being provided to adolescents including teenage girls. Studies show that by the age of 15, 24% of girls and 10% of boys in Uganda are sexually active. Unfortunately, they are not receiving adequate sex education. A 2008 Guttmacher Institute report revealed that 70 out of 100 girls had never talked with their parents or guardians about sex-related matters.
This puts parents and guardians in the spotlight as primarily responsible for fuelling the situation. Inspite of living in era where sexuality information is available, parents or guardians’ have inadequate skills of how to address sexuality issues when talking to their children. The teenagers on the other hand are receiving information related to their sexuality from peers and other different channels like the internet and media. Most of the information is laden with myths and misconceptions. How can therefore a parent compete with such information if they themselves are not competent enough in terms of knowledge? We need to recognize that parents are facing a dilemma. Many of them have been thrown into a grey area. The role of openly talking about sex is not something they saw their parents do when they were growing up.
Programmes that equip parents with relevant knowledge and skills of what and how to communicate to their children about reproduction and sexuality issues without being culturally insensitive are necessary. So that when schools are talking about sexuality issues, the parents can also ably supplement on the information their children are receiving
However, the brunt of teenage pregnancy should not be put on parents and guardians alone. Since the drivers of teenage pregnancy cut across many sectors, all the relevant sectors – education, religious, health, gender, political, socio-economic and cultural should be involved. As a country, we need to do what we did back then- mobilise all sectors – political, socio- economic, cultural and even religious to actively address the drivers of teenage pregnancy in Uganda.
All institutions need to carefully examine their interventions to ensure that they provide sexuality education and life skills that are relevant to today’s teenagers. We need to take into account that today’s teenage girls are influenced by a number of factors both locally and international and therefore the onus is on the institutions to ensure that they reach the teenage girls and boys with relevant, up to date and specific information to cater for their emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.
It is only when we listen to the voices of these girls and carefully analyze the trends will we reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy in Uganda.
Ritah Mwagale is the Communications Coordinator at Uganda Health Marketing Group.