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Investing in girls key to harness Uganda’s demographic dividend

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Added 11th July 2016 10:02 AM

As Uganda’s population edges close to 40 million people, it is time to reflect on the status of the country’s population.

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As Uganda’s population edges close to 40 million people, it is time to reflect on the status of the country’s population.

By Humphrey Nabimanya

On July 11 every year, the world comes together to create awareness about population and related issues. Based on the global theme, investing in teenage girls, this year’s theme harnessing Uganda’s demographic dividend; Invest in teenage girls, is crucial and timely.

With a global population of more than 7.2 billion as of March 2015, according to the Population Reference Bureau, it is very important for people across the globe to realise the significance of investing in teenage girls and take action to improve their health and overall wellbeing.

As Uganda’s population edges close to 40 million people, it is time to reflect on the status of the country’s population by focusing on  its biggest population,  the youth and prioritise  investments in health, education, economic productivity and governance.

Let us look at health. Even though Uganda is making significant progress in tackling poverty, insecurity and improving opportunity for marginalised groups of people including youth through entrepreneurship and education empowerment programmes, many remain silently desperate for a new dawn in their lives.  Unfortunately, those most left behind are girls, specifically those in their teenage years.

Life, for most teenage girls is a daily nightmare. According to the 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, 49% of women in Uganda today were married by the age of 18. Furthermore, 24% of girls between the age of 15 - 19 years are already mothers or pregnant. That is one in every four girls.

Even among girls who stay in school, access to basic information about their health, human rights and reproductive rights can be hard to come by, leaving them vulnerable to illness, injury and exploitation. These challenges are exacerbated among marginalised girls, such as members of ethnic minorities or those living in poverty or remote areas.

Simply put, when pregnancy or marriage is unplanned or rushed, it is a clear indication of the infringement on teenagers’ sexual and reproductive rights and hence of their human rights.

It does not need rocket science to show that early pregnancy and motherhood bring about health complications for mother and baby, as well as negative impacts over the course of the lives of teenagers. These include maternal morbidity and mortality associated with the risks involved with unsafe abortions, among other life threatening consequences such as obstetric fistula.

From a socio-economic point of view, teenage pregnancy and motherhood have negative impact on the economy; early motherhood represents an accelerated loss of the demographic dividend they stand to reap by investing in wellbeing of young people.

This is because instead of increasing economic productivity by having a larger economically active proportion of the population, a rise in early motherhood causes a rapid rise in the dependency ratio that is the proportion of the population that is not economically active and requires support from family or society.

Every teenage girl has the right to a safe and successful transition into adulthood and the right to embrace the opportunities that the future holds for her. The costs of investing in teenage girls and supporting them to prevent pregnancy are much less than the costs of prenatal care, childbirth, postnatal care and care of the new born, if a teenage girl gets pregnant.

Keeping girls in school, is an effective intervention to prevent teenage pregnancy. In the same way, creating conditions within the education system to ensure that pregnant teenagers or adolescent mothers can continue their education, would be another intervention with a positive impact. This should be coupled with sex education and provision of accurate information to develop the capacity to decide whether when and with whom to have children. Investing in teenage girls is about making it a conscious choice which will help Uganda achieve a favourable demographic dividend. And it is a choice we have to make now.

The writer is a team leader and founder of the Reach A Hand, Uganda

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