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School pregnancies: does anybody care?

By Vision Reporter

Added 4th January 2008 03:00 AM

LABOUR is not one of those experiences you want to go through before an audience. Especially not when the onlookers are scores of teenagers in an examination room. Namirembe, 18, an S.4 candidate at Kikomeko Memorial School in Buwama, Mpigi had that misfortune.

LABOUR is not one of those experiences you want to go through before an audience. Especially not when the onlookers are scores of teenagers in an examination room. Namirembe, 18, an S.4 candidate at Kikomeko Memorial School in Buwama, Mpigi had that misfortune.

By Lydia Namubiru

LABOUR is not one of those experiences you want to go through before an audience. Especially not when the onlookers are scores of teenagers in an examination room. Namirembe, 18, an S.4 candidate at Kikomeko Memorial School in Buwama, Mpigi had that misfortune.

Sitting for the first paper of the S4 final mathematics exam, she went into labour.
Her labour progressed in minutes and soon she was writhing in pain, attracting the attention of those sitting next to her. The invigilators at first ignored her, and only helped her out of the room after her waters had broken and her labour had progressed to the most advanced stage. She delivered a baby boy a few yards outside the examination room.

Eight months earlier, she had become pregnant by a fellow teenager who was also an S4 candidate. Although Namirembe was discontinued from school following the discovery of the pregnancy, the boy was not. Indeed, even on this fatefully day, he sat in another examination room miles away in Gomba, oblivious of what Namirembe was going through.

Although she went back to school to complete her exams, Namirembe will have no results for Mathematics, a compulsory subject. She will have to repeat the class if she is to realise her dream of becoming a teacher.

A few days later, Namuyomba, 20, another S4 candidate in the same district would face a similar fate. Namuyomba had been expelled from school just after sitting for only one of her mock exams in second term because she was pregnant. However, the school administration allowed her to sit for the final exams provided she commuted to the school everyday.

On October 30, the day before her Fine Art paper, she went into labour and her sister rushed her to Nkozi hospital where she delivered her baby. The next day, she left the newborn girl with her sister and went for the Art paper. She went back to school seven days later for the Agriculture paper. Luckily for her, she completed all her exams. Like her mother says, if she is lucky and the money is available, she will go back to school and realise her dream of becoming a nurse. Looking at her sad face now, and the poverty that surrounds her and her two-week old baby, it is obvious Namuyomba is missing out on the joy of motherhood.

She was wooed into sex by a 24-year-old man, Steven Kavuma, who had visited her home village, Kigula from Nateete.

Namuyomba, the child of a widowed, peasant, mother of nine, could not resist the clothes Kavuma bought her. Soon she was pregnant and like usually happens with crisis pregnancies, she remembers the actual date. “I got pregnant on February 12, 2007,” she tearfully says. Although the man encouraged her to keep the baby and even promised assistance, he has since disappeared.

In a replica of the above scenarios, an even younger girl, Babirye, 15, of Mpumudde Estate Primary School in Jinja Municipality, also went into labour as she was sitting for the PLE English paper on November 5.

She was rushed to Mpumudde health centre, where she delivered a baby girl and rushed back to school to complete the exam. The baby was left in the care of the medical officers. Babirye too had dropped out of school at the beginning of the third term and was allowed back only to do the exams.

Nakiguli, 19, an S4 candidate of Mende Kalema Memorial School, missed her final Chemistry exam because she was in labour. Contractions started shortly before the examination so she was rushed to a clinic in the locality where she gave birth to a baby boy. Her baby’s father is 18-year-old Diviyo, an S.3 student in the same school. It was reported that Diviyo had to miss school to take care of the baby as Nakiguli went for the rest of her exams.

It is not possible to list all the girls who get pregnant in school each year. According to the 2006 Demographic and Health Survey, 25% of teenage girls in Uganda have had children.

Other sources suggest even higher percentages. According to statistics from UNICEF, 35% of teenagers are either pregnant or have already had their first child.

It is, however, not clear how many of these teenagers were in school before conception and consequently dropped out.

Disturbingly, the issue of pregnancy in school does not seem to feature high on the agenda of the policy makers.
The ministry of education no longer compiles statistics on how many girls get pregnant in school. “I only know of those I read about in the papers,” says Namirembe Bitamazire, the minister. “I don’t receive reports on the issue of pregnant girls or those who deliver in examinations rooms.”

Indeed, there is very little documentation about the issue at the ministry. Before 2003, the ministry used to capture information on the reasons for dropouts, in which pregnancy featured often.
However, that question has since been dropped from the questionnaires sent to schools from which the education statistics are compiled. The ministry’s senior statistician, Vincent Ssozi, says: “We no longer capture some of that information because the information we used to get was not accurate. We intend to carry out a survey on some of those issues.”

Nevertheless, the fact that girls are dropping out of school because of pregnancy, is undeniable. According to the Education for All (EFA) Monitoring Report (2003), the school careers of many girls are cut short, either by the girls voluntarily withdrawing or because of the national education policies that demand that pregnant girls are ejected from the system with little or no chance of going back to school after delivery.
Earlier records from the ministry show that pregnancy was a major reason for school dropouts, especially among upper primary and O’level students.

In 2002, a total of 8,116 girls countrywide, dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Of these, 6,229 were upper primary pupils while 2,353 were O’level students. The year before, 8,201 girls had dropped out for the same reason shooting up from 3,966 in the previous year. Again, in both cases, the majority were either P5 – P7 pupils or O’level students.

There is no evidence to suggest that fewer school girls are getting pregnant.
Vivian Kityo, the director of Wakisa Crisis Pregnancy Centre, says in her 17 years of work with crisis pregnancies, she has seen the number of school girls’ pregnancies remain relatively stable. “I would say the numbers are relatively stable. I have not noticed a significant decline or increase in the numbers,” she says.

However, she attributes this stability in recorded cases partly to the fact that girls are increasingly being able to procure abortions, which are not recorded.

Although it is realistic to say girls who get pregnant at an early stage need all the education they can get to secure their already challenged future, Uganda’s education policy is unfriendly to expectant girls or new mothers.
It is the education ministry’s official position that expectant mothers leave school because the primary and secondary sections are not equipped to care for them.

“While it is not a crime for the girls to get pregnant, I do not want my teachers to be turned into midwives and nurses because that is not what they are trained for,” says Bitamazire.

While this punitive measure is implemented religiously, some education activists question its benefits and some even view it as a barrier to education. In a report about girls’ education in Uganda, UNICEF says, “Uganda has a very high rate of adolescent pregnancy. 35% of girls are pregnant or have already given birth by the age of 17, yet the policies exclude pregnant or new mothers from school.”

Human and child rights activists also view it as an abuse of human rights. “Education is a basic right and a child does not lose that right when she becomes pregnant. To expel her from school is a violation of her rights,” says Venansio Ahabwe of the African Network for Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect.

The fact that only the girls get punished also irks more than a few people. “Girls do not impregnate themselves but because the evidence of the act only appears on the girl, she is punished. What is done to the responsible man or boy?” Ahabwe asks.

Also inherent in the policy is the assumption that the girl was reckless and therefore deserves punishment for getting pregnant. This is, however, not always the case.

According to Kityo, 30% of the girls who seek refuge at the Wakisa Crisis Pregnancy Centre in Mengo were raped.
In addition, other circles say the policy is not backed by a proper system to guide the girls away from early pregnancy in the first place. A series of studies conducted in Uganda and other African countries between 2000 and 2001, concluded that the management of sexual matters in school settings was unsatisfactory.

“The education systems in the countries studied were found to be failing to provide children with accessible and accurate knowledge about the process of sexual maturation,” says the EFA report.

Instead, it was found that premarital pregnancy among girls is stigmatised on moralistic grounds without addressing factors that lead to pregnancy among them.

Proponents of the policy believe that allowing the pregnant girls to stay in school would send the wrong message to those who are not. “Girls in (Mt. St. Mary’s) Namugunga once told me that allowing pregnant girls in school would be liberalising sex. I think the pregnant girl should leave the school,” says Fagil Monday, a senior education consultant.
On re-admitting the girls into school, Monday, an educationist for over 25 years, advises that it be done in a low key manner. “Do not go around telling the other students that you have admitted a girl who got pregnant earlier,” he says, explaining that it is not culturally proper.
The problems faced by pregnant school girls stretch beyond the duration of the pregnancy and the school setting.

Because of the stigma that is associated with early pregnancy, the school environment remains unfavourable for them to continue with their studies after delivery as established by a 2005 study exploring the problems faced by pregnant adolescents carried out by Makerere Medical School. “The girls cannot go back to the same school where they were before the pregnancy. Fellow students would make them uncomfortable with questions about their lives and babies,” Kityo explains.

Studies show that pregnant school girls are beaten up by their parents, thrown out of home, abused by midwives and stigmatised by the communities.
The psychological load of being a young mother is another issue they have to contend with.

“Being a young mother is very hard. Even for those who were bright, their performance may drop because they are constantly worrying about the wellbeing of their child. I have a girl who is getting panic attacks because she believes her baby is not being looked after back in the village where she left him with her own mother,” says Kityo.

However, getting pregnant in school does not have to be the end of the road for the girl, as Irene Muloni, now Managing Director of UEDCL would tell you.

Muloni got pregnant in school but she resumed studies shortly after delivering the baby. She went on to get her engineering degree and is now a successful career woman, mother and role model. “You must have a strong will and goals you want to achieve in life. If I had not had a goal, I could have been derailed,” she says.

The consensus across a wide spectrum of stakeholders is that, while it is understandable to take action on pregnancy in school, a more preventive approach should be taken. and when dealing with girls who get pregnant, the measures ought to be more reformatory than punitive.

Handling teenage pregnancy

What pregnant adolescent
girls should do

  • If you have had unprotected sex,
    go for pregnancy testing.

  • If the test reveals that you are
    pregnant, accept the fact

  • Teach yourself to love the growing
    baby even if you did not want it

  • Tell your partner about it

  • Tell your parents and ask for their

  • Seek professional counselling

  • Start attending antenatal

  • Understand that there is life after

  • Make sure that you deliver at a
    health centre

  • After delivery, talk to your
    guardians about going back to

  • Back at school, refocus on your
    books and work hard

  • Learn from the experience and
    avoid risky behaviour.

  • What the boy should do
  • Accept responsibility

  • Promise her your support

  • Tell your parents about your
    pregnant partner

  • Escort her for antenatal services

  • Be kind to her through out the

  • Learn from the experience

  • What the parents should do
  • Accept the situation and don’t
    push the girl against a wall

  • Counsel the girl about pregnancy
    and the possibility of life after

  • Get in touch with the girl’s
    partner and his family

  • Give her all the support you can
  • Give the girl a second chance at
    school when she delivers

  • Help her look after the baby while
    she goes back to school

  • Get help at;
  • Naguru Teenage Information and
    Health Centre

  • Wakisa Crisis Pregnancy and
    Counselling Centre, Mengo
    Mirembe House, Namirembe Hill

  • Youth Centres at KCC health units

  • Youth Friendly Service
    Department at Community Health

  • Preventive measures
    for school administrators

  • Provide the teenager with access
    to well-researched publications
    on sexuality

  • Have zero tolerance to sexual
    harassment of girls by both
    teachers and fellow students

  • Encourage students to form clubs
    like Straight Talk clubs, debate
    clubs and others that encourage
    discussion and give life skills

  • Be alert about vulnerable girls
    in your school such as orphans
    and the poor

  • Source: Henry Ntare , counsellor
    Naguru Teenage Centre

    School pregnancies: does anybody care?

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