By Umar Weswala
“One of the hardest situations about being an adolescent mother or getting pregnant at a tender age is the way others perceive you.” This was my highlight of day two of the recent teenage pregnancy campaign tweet-up organised by UNFPA Uganda office.
According to the UNFPA State of World Population 2013 report, efforts to reduce pregnancy in some communities have been narrowly focused to targeting girls as the problem thus aiming to change their behaviours as the solution.
However, there is no documented evidence that such efforts have been successful in reducing adolescent pregnancy. This is because they do not address the underlying factors which include, among others, poor or no access to youth friendly SRH services.
In Uganda, only 14% of girls aged 15-19 use contraceptive methods (UBOS and Macro International Inc. 2011).
The fate of the remaining 86% is an issue that all stakeholders should collectively endeavour to establish and address. According to Dembe Michael, the reproductive health project manager at Uganda Red Cross, barriers like poverty, lack of education, lack of privacy, hard to access centers, judgmental service providers; coupled with misinformation, family or community stigma and limited resources should be addressed so that more adolescents can access SRH services.
Straight Talk Foundation 2013 findings indicate that 63% of young people were not happy with the SRH services they received at a health centre.
The concerns raised by Dembe are probably not addressed in those facilities where the 63% visited.
Liliane Lwanga, a Senior Health Educationist at the Ministry of Health says that only about 15 out of the 132 districts in Uganda are offering what can be described as adolescent friendly SRH services.
On the legal front, teenage pregnancy cases are rarely given due justice. On many occasions, perpetrators are given lenient sentences, given the pleasure of striking an out of court deal with the victim’s parents or handing over the victims to them as wives.
When it comes to community responses, it is the girls who get expelled from school and sometimes from home, it is the girls who are condemned into forced marriages and forced to have children under the pretext of protecting them from “getting spoilt” as the saying goes.
According to the ‘ecological model’ as outlined in the UNFPA state of world population 2013 report, the actions or behaviours of the adolescent girls are generally “the result of an absence of choices and of circumstances beyond their control.
Reports of reductions in teenage pregnancy or adolescent mothers continue to come only from those institutions and locations where youth friendly services exist courtesy of UNFPA, Straight Talk Foundation, Ministry of Health, Uganda Red Cross Society and other participating stakeholders. Teenage pregnancy rate is high - 45% among girls without education compared to 16% among educated girls (UBOS and Micro International Inc. 2011).
It is not, therefore, proper to blame teenage pregnancy on girls.
The key question should be how friendly are SRH services to adolescent girls? Uganda Red Cross Society is one of the institutions that has attempted to answer this question by setting up youth corners especially in the districts of Butaleja, Mayuge, Kabong and several others where the teenage pregnancy rate is alarming. It is such actions that will deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every child is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled as envisioned by UNFPA.
The writer is a managing editor of www.thecommunityagenda.com