By Patricia Kigula
In Uganda, 24% of girls between 13 to 19 years old have had or are expecting a baby. In fact, for many other countries like Uganda, complications during childbirth and pregnancy are the leading cause of deaths with 27.8% deaths among young people due to unsafe abortions.
While there are many other push factors contributing to teenage pregnancy among which are limited sexual reproductive health information for teenagers, poverty, defilement, early marriages and the policies and laws not enforced to support and protect young people, we must agree that things are better now.
Girls, while still vulnerable, are going to school and acquiring an education. In fact, many programs and campaigns have been established to empower young girls to make the right choices that will help them delay pregnancy with a lot of emphasis on education of the girl child.
The adverts on television, radio and print media have their spotlight on women and girls. However, society seems to have blanked out the fact that young men have an important role to play in the push to curb teenage pregnancies!
While most, if not all teenage pregnancies, are unexpected especially for a teenage girl and her family, hardly anyone ever considers the fact that a pregnancy could be unexpected for a teenage boy.
While a 13 year old boy growing up in the urban setting, because of greater exposure, may understand that sex will result into pregnancy and know the essence of contraceptives, the same cannot be said for their counterparts in the rural areas.
In the past, boys had their fathers and uncles to explain body changes, sex and marriage but that has slowly languished.
In fact, men with multiple sexual partners are still held in high regard in many rural settings and they are role models for these teenage boys.
Godfrey Walakira, a counsellor with Straight Talk Foundation, says that, annually, an average of 16 girls in one school in Mayuge district drop out owing to early pregnancy.
We also know that the people responsible for these pregnancies are teachers, fellow students, strangers or even guardians.
However, are they reprimanded for their actions? In the event that a teenage boy gets his girlfriend pregnant, is information availed to him regarding pregnancy, fatherhood, HIV/AIDS and STDS?
Do teenage boys know about contraceptives and access to them? Are young boys receiving accurate information regarding reproductive growth, sex, family planning and pregnancy?
Reaching out to teenage boys is an essentially good investment because they are more responsive to health information and to opportunities to view gender relations differently.
Research shows that unhealthy perceptions of sex, including viewing women/girls as sexual objects, viewing sex as performance oriented and using force to obtain sex, start in adolescence.
The prospect is that if we dismissed the need for teenage boys to know about menstruation, about sex, pregnancy and contraceptives, we may not move on from the issue of teenage pregnancy.
If we fed these boys as much information as we do for their female counterparts, if we pushed them to realize that the issue of pregnancy is not only a girl’s responsibility but theirs too and that their role is equally important, perhaps it would break down the teenage pregnancy rate and give girls the equal opportunities they need to compete on the job market.
While the society is focused on raising women of substance, we need to recognize that this same society needs to raise men of valour.