At 25%, Uganda has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Africa
BY FREDERICK WOMAKUYU
On the dusty fields of Kumi Girls Primary School, 17-year-old Josephine Among sits under a tree shade and offers a broad smile to the visiting journalists. Dressed smartly in a blue uniform, white knee-length socks and black shoes, she tells her story.
Three years ago, she conceived and was forced to drop out of school after a casual relationship with a classmate.
Among says peer pressure and economic hardships forced her into the relationship. â€œI was in Primary Six. One of my friends used to speak well of her boyfriend who often gave her money. I got persuaded to look for the same satisfaction but as it turned out, I found a boyfriend but not happiness.â€
â€œWhen I found out that I was pregnant, I was so scared. I told my boyfriend and he arranged for us to escape to Kaberamaido, where we hid for several months,â€ Among says.
After three months, Amongâ€™s father got hold of the boy. He negotiated with the parents of the boy and they agreed on payment of three cows as brideprice.
Amongâ€™s future was in doubt. She dropped out of school with no hope of returning and she was eventually given away to the boy as his wife at the tender age of 14.
I met this girl on a recent visit to Kumi district with ActionAid International, an agency working to end global poverty by promoting the rights of girls through scholarships.
According to ActionAid, Kumi district has one of the highest primary school drop out rates of girls in the country at 84% annually compared to the national rate of 20%.
The agency says early marriages and teenage pregnancies in the district are over 60% compared to the national average of 25%. This has led to high school dropout rates, with some parents arranging for the marriage of their girls to get brideprice.
I asked one of the parents, Moses Okoit, what he and others in Kumi district thought of education of the girl-child.
He said: â€œA girlâ€™s place is in marriage in exchange for brideprice, however, we also know that an educated girl can fetch more cows. But a girl who conceives at school is a disgrace and she is supposed to be immediately married off to a suitor before you lose brideprice because she is no longer a virgin.â€
Kumi district is one of the poorest districts in Uganda where the link between the natural harsh semi-arid environment, security, development and human rights is profound. The region also bears the scars of armed violence by the Karimojong cattle rustlers and the attacks by the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army.
The majority of the dwellers are farmers who grow cassava and millet at a subsistence level, rear and trade in goats and cows. But as frequent droughts kill off the livestock, parents have resorted to marrying off their daughters in exchange for brideprice.
Among says while at her boyfriendâ€™s home, she was harshly treated. â€œMy boyfriend abandoned me to pursue a driving course in Lira district. I lacked food and other basic needs. When he completed the course, he did not come back. My in-laws became a burden and often asked me to pack my bags and leave,â€ Among recalls.
A new dawn
Among is among the over 26 girls who have another chance to get a formal education. Four others have undertaken income generating activities like tailoring.
Since 2004, ActionAid has helped over 30 child mothers pursue their dreams.
â€œHer parents realised she was suffering. When ActionAid talked to them, they agreed to accept her back home and to take care of her baby. This as Among goes back to school,â€ says Helen Malinga, the programme manager ActionAid Kumi.
â€œAmong is in Primary Five and her performance is excellent. To see her back at school is to see the stirring of goodness itself. She is living proof that child mothers, even those with almost no future, can revive their dreams,â€ Malinga says.
Ann Akello, 20, was a 13-year-old Primary Seven pupil when she got married. But through ActionAid, she chose an income generating activity over school.
â€œI was taken to a technical school to train as a tailor and later given a sewing machine by ActionAid. I now earn my own income at the local Kumi market,â€ she said.
Among is grateful that her parents and ActionAid took her back to school and her advice to other young people is: â€œGirls should not be deceived by men. They should study and complete education so that they get good jobs and live better lives.â€