Komuhangi, is a very jolly young girl. She wears an infectious smile with a warm reception; always, to strangers and friends alike. From a distance, all in her life seem rosy!

But the contagious smile is deceptive in a way. Komuhangi is a primary four dropout, teenage pregnancy victim and a child mother who is in late stages of giving birth to the second child. She is just 17 years!

With her first conception at 14, little did she know about safe sex, pregnancies, or Sexually Transmitted Diseases that would subject her life to probable risks because these were never taught at her school or by her parents.

“I did not know enough about what I was doing, I only heard a brief idea because I used to watch some of these in movies” –Komuhangi says. She added “I was lured into an act by an aged man but its repercussions were never anticipated”.

Students at St Catherine Primary School-Bukoto during one of the Books before Babies sessions

Komuhangi is one among 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 who are out of school and 15 million girls of primary-school age, according to UNESCO estimates. The same report indicates that half of them in sub-Saharan Africa— will never enter a classroom. She is also, among 41,000 girls under the age of 18 who are married off daily according to the same report.

Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum, upon realizing this existing gap rolled out the ‘books before babies’ campaign’ targeting 10,000  adolescents between the ages of 10- 19 years old; both in and out of school.

“We understand that due to gaps in access to information and youth-friendly services, young people and adolescents also face several Sexual Reproductive Health challenges that range from HIV/AIDS and STDs/STIs infections, unintended pregnancies currently estimated at 25% (UDHS 2016)” says Patrick Mwesigye; UYAHF team leader and founder.

The campaign also focuses on maternal and child morbidity, menstrual health related challenges, all of which Komuhangi was predisposed to. These issues require a well packaged information to be shared with those in her age group to prevent a repeat of her experience.

Other areas of focus include: Sexual and Gender Based Violence cases, forced marriages, rape, defilement and female genital mutilation, psychological problems like alcohol, drug and substance abuse, delinquency, truancy and limited access to correct and culturally sensitive Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights information and youth friendly services.

Official signage of the Books Before Babies campaign

Books Before Babies in schools  

We launched and held our maiden campaign at Kisaasi Muslim Secondary school and later at St Catherine primary school with a marvellous group of young people who did not shy away from sharing information regarding body changes, sex life, and relationships, STI, HIV/Aids among other sexual and reproductive health concerns ranging from lack of information to misconceptions.

“Someone told us that the use of pads is a leading cause of cancer among adult women, is it true?” Asked one of the students who preferred anonymity while another wished to know whether wet dreams are spiritual or physiological

While at St Catherin’s primary school, topics of discussion were menstruation, personal hygiene, teenage pregnancies and psychosocial support among others.

Winnie Apio, ur program officer, Sexual and Reproductive Health rights (SRHR) and Gender during a school outreach at Kisaasi Muslim school.

Right information and responses was provided by our young and vibrant facilitators who made an effort to create a less-prejudiced space for information sharing among peers regardless of gender.

“Youth don’t like being judged; sessions like these create a safe and free sharing and learning environment hence breaking stigma, which one of our targets” says Mary Mutonyi, the facilitator.

We preferred to have both girls and boys together as a  way of breaking stigma, but also promote gender inclusiveness in all sexual and reproductive health issues

“When you separate boys and girls, you only win on awareness, but you lose out on things like menstrual stigma, It was interesting for boys to know that girls know a lot about them and the vice versa” Says Winnie Apio, The UYAHF program officer.

Winnie Apio demystifying the difference between gender equality and gender equity during one of the sessions at Kisaasi Muslim