Kampala — When Universal Secondary Education was introduced in 2007 to supplement Universal Primary Education, the expectation of most Ugandans was that more students would stay in school and literacy rates would improve.
But as Ms Jane Musinguzi, the headteacher of Kasiita Seed SS, explains, the high rate of school dropouts due to pregnancies is alarming.
Ms Musinguzi says, having only secondary school in Kisiita Sub-county, Kibaale District has made parents to ignore their responsibility in ensuring that their children stay in school.
"I have had several cases of pregnancies in Senior One and Two. In a term, I register more than 10 cases of pregnant girls. It's disappointing and seems the community doesn't care about the Aids scourge. The rate of pregnancy is so high," she said in an interview with Saturday Monitor.
Ms Musinguzi added that children are intelligent and even willing to learn but their parents are blinded by the desire for wealth got from brideprice.
"They don't report defilement cases because they think that once a girl has breasts, she should be married off in return for iron sheets and a pot of locally brewed beer."
Ms Musinguzi said, the government has put up structures, provided furniture, textbooks and chemicals to use in school laboratories but it will not go in people's homes and drag children to school.
"It makes our work difficult when parents don't cooperate. A child is for example given a 32-page book to be used for the nine subjects besides studying on an empty stomach," she added.
"And yet the same parent will find money to buy alcohol for the whole day," Ms Musinguzi said. Although she boasts of an increased enrolment from seven students when she joined the school in 2007 to 350, Ms Musinguzi adds that leaders have not sensitised the community on the rights of children.
"Local politicians aren't bothered because they claim that their job depends on people's votes and thus are not ready to antagonise parents who will determine their next future."
She added that some girls have reported that they are denied food at their homes because they refused to get married. In some cases, the school intervenes by providing food to the affected students and counselling parents but Ms Musinguzi said this is only a short term intervention.
The boys are not spared either. According to Ms Musinguzi, boys are forced to marry at an early age because their fathers bring them young girls claiming that if they don't have sex early they will be impotent.
The National Coordinator, Forum for African Women Educationalists, Ms Martha Muhwezi, said early pregnancies have resulted from parents failing to address pertinent issues that affect the girl-child.
"If parents can't provide food what else can they do? Children get false information from teenagers because their parents fear to discuss information concerning sex," she said.
The Education Minister Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire said problems affecting girls require a concerted effort.
"It takes a parent, the girl and the community to change society. A parent is a key person in the growth of a child. They need to build their children's character and monitor their progress in school," Ms Bitamazire said.
She said parents and guardians need to provide academic materials for their children to ensure smooth learning at school.
"A girl who misses personal requirements, will always run after petty things that are offered by greedy men to lure the girl into having sex," Ms Bitamazire said.