By Frank Isabirye
SUNDAY VISION - Uganda is blighted by endemic poverty. People do all they can to break free from its stranglehold. In Kanungu District, rural folk are offering their teenage daughters to men for the gains in bride price. The result? An upsurge in teenage pregnancies.
The number of child mothers in Kanungu district is alarming. Mothers as young as 15 are a common sight. The district is reported to have one of the highest prevalences of teenage pregnancies in Uganda. The majority of these girls are victims of circumstance and married off to older men. In their struggles to make ends meet, parents are giving away their daughters for monetary gain.
Adrine Ndabita, a mother and beneficiary of Action For Children, gave away her daughter, but Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU) came to her daughter's rescue.
The poverty in most of the rural households is a major cause of teenage pregnancy. As many of the young girls look for what their parents can’t afford, they end up engaging in relationships with men. And these girls' parents are more than happy to give them away in exchange for money, Ndabita says.
"They (the parents) have turned their daughters into a source of income generation," adds Herbert Matsiko, a peer educator with RHU, Kanungu district.
Matsiko moves around the sub-counties, sensitising and creating awareness about the dangers of teenage pregnancy and young mothers.
Matsiko says some scheming parents exploit the men having affairs with these girls, forcing them to pay them off and marry their teenage daughters lest they press defilement charges against them.
The situation has heightened the spread of HIV/AIDS. As more and more teenage girls are forced to settle with older men, the increased spread of HIV/AIDS threatens.
Matsiko says" these households are encouraging their young girls to have affairs with old men who, besides being married, have multiple partners. And this gives rise to another problem altogether like the spread of HIV/AIDS."
Isaac Kisambira, a childcare officer with Action For Children, says "The HIV/AIDS prevalence in Kanungu district stands at 8.4%. The majority of these men have multiple partners and don’t practice safe sex, so they expose these young mothers to a great risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections."
As a childcare officer, Kisambira not only makes contact with these young mothers, but it is his responsibility to initiate them into the rehabilitation process.
"On top of counselling these young mothers, it is my responsibility to check for their HIV/AIDS status so that we can know how best to protect them and their babies from HIV/AIDS. Many of these teenage mothers confess to having no say when it comes to having protected " Kisambira says.
The increased spread of HIV/AIDS, in the long run, increases the number of orphans and other vulnerable children. The other ripple effect is an increased infant mortality rate.
RHU, under a USAID funded project in Kigezi region, conducts field outreaches and works closely with Action for Children to reach out to these young mothers, most of whom are ignorant about proper feeding methods for infants.
Although RHU has started awareness campaigns in some of areas like Kibimbiri parish, Kabuga sub-county in Kihiihi, a lot more mass sensitisation and awareness is needed. Consequently, more parties, including the Government, need to join hands with the non-government organisations to curtail the scourge of teenage pregnancies in Kanungu. The rural folk need to realise that giving away their daughters at such an early age is not a solution to poverty.
Teen pregnancies on the rise in Kanungu