On November 30, a group of people advocating for the end to child marriage gathered at the Imperial Royale Hotel for the 2018 National Girl Summit. The theme of the summit was how to move from commitment to implementation in the campaign against child marriage and female genital mutilation.
National Girl Summit Uganda
Keynote Speaker, Drake Rukundo, shared with attendees that currently 10% of children 6-12 years old are not in school in Uganda and 22% of children 13-18 years old are not in school. He went on to explain the teenage pregnancy rate is at 25% in Uganda. Rukundo emphasized that the men behind these young girls’ pregnancies should be brought to justice and these pregnant girls should not be forced into marriage. In a shocking example, Rukundo mentioned a 27-year old grandmother from Butaleja district who gave birth at 13 years old and her daughter followed the same pattern. He advised that in order to end child marriage, the following key issues need to be addressed:
- Who is a child? Categorization of adolescents within the demographic focus has lacked clarity.
- Address factors causing female child dropout from primary and secondary school (poverty, lack of sanitary pads, cultural beliefs).
- Address factors causing teenage pregnancy (a limited focus on adolescent health, exploitation of girls by men, diminishing role of the parent, limited follow up on cases).
Teenage pregnancy and child marriage in Uganda
Teenage pregnancy and child marriage are two things which affect all areas of our country. Agnes shared her personal experiences with child marriage. She was given away by her parents into marriage at 15-years old for one cow, a basin of cassava and 50,000 shillings. With an amazing amount of courage, she left the marriage two years later, went back to school and is now a graduate working with World Vision. In another story shared, Mary was convinced by her peer group to go for a village disco. As it got dark, two boys picked interest in accompanying her and one boy raped her. The rape resulted in pregnancy and she was forced to marry her rapist. The boy’s family did not like her and treated her horribly. Due to a lack of money, she had no other option but to deliver at home. She lost the baby due to complications. Mary left the marriage and is now back in school, advising students to stay away from bad influences and to remain focused on school.
Unfortunately, there are many stories like this in the world. Mary and Agnes aren’t alone in their experiences. Child mothers can rebuild, but we have to make it possible for them. The Zoe House exists for these girls who long to tell a different story – one that isn’t necessarily defined by their pregnancies.
– Miriam, Program Coordinator at The Zoe House