On February 24th, the Uganda Youths and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAHF), in partnership with BRAC Uganda with support from UNFPA, held the first school outreach on teenage pregnancy and child marriages at KDA Primary School in Moroto district under the “Leave your dream campaign”.

The “Live Your Dream Campaign” is a program that seeks to address issues of teenage pregnancies, child marriages, restrictive cultural norms, and sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) in the different districts of the Karamoja Sub-region. It is being implemented by the UYAHF in partnership with BRAC Uganda with support from UNFPA.

The campaign is based on four main pillars including: Live Your Dream by Letting Girls be Girls, Live Your Dream by choosing Books before Babies, Live Your Dream-with Youth, and Live Your Dream by bringing generations together.

The school outreach was held under the objectives; To create awareness on the magnitude of teenage pregnancies and child marriages amongst adolescent and young people, Promote the Books before Babies concept emphasising to the adolescents in school and provide a platform for young people to amplify their voices through experience sharing on issues of teenage pregnancies and child marriages.

The outreach brought together 55 primary seven pupils, including 32 boys and 23 girls, and was facilitated by Ms. Osundwa Christine, a program officer at UYAHF, and Lowangor Kevin, a UYAHF Karamoja youth champion.

During a session on teenage pregnancy, the pupils highlighted increased poverty, death of parents, sexual exploitation, and defilement/rape as the key drivers of the high rates of teenage pregnancy.

“Many girls here are raped while returning from fetching water. The big men, especially those who graze animals, wait for them along the way and force themselves on them, and that is how most of the girls get pregnant, “narrated Namongin Abigail, a pupil at the school.

Amodoi Lonah also shared a story about how her friend from another school was impregnated by the uncle during the lockdown.

“My friend is now living at home and no longer attends classes. They sent her to her uncle’s house in Rupa to spend the holiday with him while we were in lockdown, but the uncle instead made her pregnant. When her parents found out, the uncle denied it, and her parents did nothing about it, so she is no longer in school and is now at home caring for the baby,” she added.

Osundwa Christine, a program officer at UYAHF, revealed that while many other factors, as mentioned by the pupils, play a role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy and child marriages in the region, she noticed that lack of self-esteem among the girls and parental negligence are also eminent in the seemingly increasing rates of teenage pregnancies.o

Additionally, the participants also shared that child marriage and teenage pregnancies tend to go hand in hand. According to them, child marriages are mainly a result of teenage pregnancies, traditional cultural norms, primitive parents, peer pressure, and poverty, among others.

“When a girl gets pregnant, the parents automatically send her off for marriage regardless of her age, as long as the boy or man who impregnated her is willing to take her up,” revealed Okiror Gabriel, a pupil at the school.

Another pupil, Angela Joshua, also disclosed that in Karamoja, girls are seen as a source of bridewealth because of the animals that interns help their brothers also marry.

“In the villages, the moment a girl develops breasts, men now start to look at her as a potential wife regardless of her age, and now her brothers also see that as an opportunity to get cows that will also help facilitate their marriages,” he added.

Among the key strategies to end teenage pregnancies and child marriages put forward by the pupils include: empowering them with knowledge on SRHR to learn and build confidence; providing an easy platform to report cases of rape and abuse; engaging their parents in discussions concerning the dangers of teenage pregnancies and child marriages since they are the key decision makers in the families; supporting and encouraging girls to go to school; bringing role models and mentors to talk to them at school; and punishing men and boys who defile and impregnate girls.

They committed to be change agents in their communities and to collaborate with their parents and teachers to combat teen pregnancy and child marriage.