By David Serumaga
Education is a human right for all children. Furthermore, failure to access and complete a basic cycle of quality inclusive primary education seriously limits future opportunities for children.
In order to make sure that every child in Uganda accesses an education with no limitations, the NRM government under President Yoweri Museveni was one of the first African countries to introduce Universal Primary Education (UPE). It further built schools, trained teachers and abolishing school fees paying. The efforts of the NRM government on empowering child education majorly girls did not only stop at introducing free education at a primary level, it went ahead to introduce and implement Universal Secondary Education with the aim of enabling every child especially to get education that can help our nation grow.
Although the Government of Uganda plus Non-Governmental Organisations like Compassion International, Concern for Girl Child, United Nations among others are doing their level best at empowering children to access education mainly girls, a report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows that Uganda has the highest school drop-out rate for females in East Africa. The rate shoots up to claim roughly half the class before the girls finish primary school. The reasons are many: lack of interest, pregnancy, early marriages, child labour, and family responsibilities have driven thousands out of school.
Last week, the Speaker of Parliament, the Right Honorable Rebecca Kadaga launched a five-year campaign against child marriages and teenage pregnancies in Uganda. The five-year campaign dubbed as "Leave Your Dream" is a program by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Ministry of Health. Teenage pregnancy as a factor that leads to girl child drop out stands at 25% and the rate of early marriage of girls before turning eighteen is at 49 percent. In most cases girls get marriage because of pressure from parents who force them into it, other feel that they have grown up and ready for marriage. Interestingly some parents have negative attitudes towards education so they prefer their children to stay home and wait for marriage than to go to school
Peer group influence is another factor which has led to the increased girl child school dropout resulting into early motherhood and single motherhood at an early age. Domestic and school based violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, also leads to poor nurturing and development of children both out of school and within the school context.
Besides all that, there is a big habit that called child labour. This is also a significant factor that leads to girl child school dropouts. It is noted that most children after reaching the age of 10 and above prefer are forced into child labour mainly to work as maids, street vendors among others. Unfortunately most of the girls working as maids are seen in the houses of the educated who would have been their guides but rather decide to support them into not attaining education.
As Kadaga said, parents should help the Government to make sure that this habit of girl child drop out is abolished in Uganda. The Government of Uganda is working hand in hand at improving the education sector by filling all the gaps but these cannot be achieved if parents, teachers and the law enforcers are not doing their best at eliminating school child dropout especially girls. Some parents have been heard saying that ‘abaana ba government' meaning that children are for government leaving all the responsibilities to government. Counseling and giving career guidance to a child as a parent doesn't cost you anything. Periodic counseling and engagement with children on their school life experiences and general life skills can make them focused and you get to know their problems. In fact it is the parent to benefit more from the child if he or she succeeds in life. All those factors leading children into school dropouts are avoidable if parents and guidance play their role respectively.
Massive sensitization has been running in the media and village meetings by the government and some NGO's sensitising parents, caregivers and guardians about the importance of sending their children to school. Stories have been seen in the media when Uganda Police Force arrests parents over forcing their children into marriage at an early age. Law enforcers need to continue doing this which will change the perception of parents who took their children as a source of income or those who engage their children into child labour activities.
If all the responsible citizens work together with government on empowering the girl child, school dropout will be abolished Uganda.
The writer is the president of the Buganda Youth Wing