When 13 year old Rose Ariokot gaily returned to her poverty stricken parent' home in Amudat for holidays, late last year, she had no clue her relatives were planning to take her through the outlawed initiation custom, otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
At length and against her wish, Ariokot was taken through the rite.A year later, her poor parents married her off, after failing to raise her school fees.
It was Ariokot’s wish to continue with school, however.Ostensibly, Ariokot had invariably given a good account of herself in class.
According to some of her peers, she was always among the best students in her class. Sad as it is, Ariokot’s story is not isolated.
Several other school going girls in Amudat and other parts of Karamoja have suffered similar fates.
In many parts of the Karamoja sub region, forced early marriages are all the rage.
By all accounts, young pubescent girls are married off soon as their breasts start to sprout.
This combined with poor community attitudes to education; principally girl’s education, child trafficking and poverty explain the low education attainment levels in the sub region.
It is against this crisis backdrop, that leaders from across Karamoja held a heated solutions seeking workshop at Moroto Core Primary teachers College on Thursday.
Under discussion was the 2018-2022 gender in education strategic plan for the Karamoja sub region, developed by the Ministry of Education and Sports.
One of the key discussion points was the low enrolment rates of Karamojong girls at Primary level.
According to the Education ministry Statistical Abstract report 2016, only 43.6% girls enrolled in primary school compared to 56.4% boys in the Karamoja sub region.
Total enrolments have generally been low but education experts are concerned that despite some well thought benchmark interventions, the trend is persistent.
Peter Apaja, the LC 5 Chairman of Moroto, noted that Karamoja needed to look beyond platitudes that have not worked in the past.
"There must be new approaches to address this gender issue. Community mobilisation drives are going to be carried out in earnest, so that community elders can change their attitudes and put a stop to counterproductive social practices that are denying young girls an education," Apaja said.
Martin Gwoko the Moroto Chief Administrative Officer stressed that low education completion rates in Karamoja cast the sub region in a bad light.
"There are already existing negative stereotypes about this sub region. This region should shed those stereotypes.
An 80% primary dropout rate for both sexes and enrolment rates of 20% do not make for good reading. Our primary school completion rates on the whole are always below the national average of 60%.
This gender in education strategic plan will be a useful tool in the mobilisation of resources to implement effective interventions for the sub regions education sector," Gwoko said.
Joseph Opio, the Moroto RDC noted that drastic approaches will have to broached up and enforced to tackle low enrollment, high drop out rates and FGM in the sub region.
"Disarmament worked in Karamoja. That means counterproductive practices like FGM and forced marriages can also be done away with.
If need be, children will be compelled to go to school. Karamoja can not perpetually lag behind,” Opio said.
Angel Nakafero, the technical advisor at the gender unit of the Ministry of Education and Sports, revealed that the 2018-2022 strategic plan for the Karamoja sub region seeks to amongst other things support and achieve education equality in Karamoja.
“The plan seeks to promote appropriate and gender responsive education for the Karamoja sub region. The Education and Sports ministry will carry out regular follow-ups to gauge key intervention outcomes and immediate outputs and will present reports to be discussed at the annual education sector review meetings."
According to the Adolescent Girls Vulnerability UNICEF index 2013, children especially girls in the Karamoja sub region suffer from multiple vulnerabilities and are extremely vulnerable.
The participatory gender audit in Karamoja (by the Ministry of Education and Sports) shows that persistent low school enrolment and high dropout rates have a lot to do with poverty, negative community perceptions to education and deep seated social norms and practices amongst other things.