Today was World Population day. The event is commemorated on July 11 every year to raise awareness about global population challenges, particularly the need to plan families and improve reproductive health.
Held in Ngora district, eastern Uganda, the theme for Uganda's celebrations this year was, 'Invest in reducing teenage pregnancies; let girls be girls.' With one in four teenage girls in Uganda said to have either been pregnant or had a baby, according to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2011, the theme couldn't be more apt.
The problem is not getting pregnant per se, but doing so when the affected girls are not ready both physically and mentally. The danger in this is that often the girls' lives, and those of their babies [born or unborn], are put at grave risk. Indeed, complications related to early pregnancy and childbirth often cause serious disabilities such as obstetric fistula. They can also be fatal.
To minimise these dangers, we need to get our girls in school and keep them there. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his statement to mark this event, "An educated girl is more likely to marry later, delay child bearing until she is ready, have healthier children, and earn higher income."
We also need to empower them through education and sensitisation about the dangers of early pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health in general, including family planning as well as prevention and treatment of sexually- transmitted diseases, including HIV/Aids.
"When we devote attention and resources to the education, health and well-being of adolescent girls, they will become an even greater force for positive change in society that will have an impact for generations to come," Ban Ki-moon said.
On his part, Uganda's minister of state for Planning Matia Kasaija said: "I challenge my fellow leaders and policymakers to realise the benefits Uganda can achieve if they supported programmes to ensure that childbirth is delayed to such a time when mothers are ready physically and psychologically."
The words were well put, now we need the actions too.