Uganda: Save Schoolgirls From Pregnancies, Marriages

editorial

News report that a random survey reveals more than 2,500 schoolgirls have been made pregnant, and another 128 married off across the country paints a gloomy picture (Daily Monitor, July 27).

These hundreds of little girls, some as young as 14 years, are likely not return to school. This means the closure of our schools on March 20 for fear of spreading Covid-19 has now caused more disaster for our young girls than Covid-19 has directly done.

The four months of lockdown since March has so far claimed two recorded Covid-19 deaths in the country. But the same quarter has thrown our schoolgirls into the deep end of life without proper guidance from parents, guardians, schools, and civil society support mechanisms.

The consequences have been calamitous, with blowout cases of gender-based violence, including indecent assault, defilement, rape, unwanted pregnancies against our adolescent girls, since the schools closed.

More depressing is the fact that the future of these little girls, and many more undocumented ones across the country, are ruined. They have a slim chance of returning to school to complete their primary education cycle. This means a lost future, not only for themselves, but a vicious cycle for their children and their children's children and country.

While government sunk in tens of billions in e-learning and home-schooling, the social challenges faced by our adolescent schoolgirls in the period of redundancy during the lockdown, was not planned.

In short, the home-schooling programme are not working for our girls. The government should have bolstered this programme by promptly engaging the Education ministry and line departments, agencies, community leaders, welfare and social workers to monitor and assist these young people from engaging in risky behaviours.

Similarly, the government and its MDAs should have made readily accessible justice, law and order centres during these period of restrictions on movements. Regrettably, as was reported in Arua District, many of these victims have found it hard to walk long distances to police posts or stations, courts and medical centres.

As a consequence, many of these complainants have been reported to have given up pursuing their cases to get justice, with the majority of cases often not prosecuted, or remain under investigation, or simply dismissed for lack of interest.

In sum, saving our teenage girls from unwanted pregnancies and early marriages requires that government rethinks a holistic approach to mitigating unintended consequences of lockdown, schools closures, and shutdown of our means of livelihood.

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