District and religious leaders in Isingiro have called upon the Power to Youth (PTY) implementing partners to fully engage parents in the implementation of the program if the pressing challenges like child marriages and teenage pregnancies are to be alleviated.

They made the call recently during the PTY district entry meeting that brought together various stakeholders including the district’s health, education, and gender departments, Probation officer, youth counselors, community, religious, cultural and opinion leaders, and the young people. The entry meeting is aimed at introducing the program to the district, seek by-in and commitment to supporting its implementation.

The call was stirred by Ms. Kamama Annet Mukama, the councilor Nakabyara town council, and the Isingiro district in charge of children’s affairs when she narrated how she saved a 13-year-old girl from being married off.

“Child marriages have become a big issue here in our community. Recently I intercepted a marriage arrangement that involved giving out a 13-year-old girl to 40 years old man. The girls had just sat P7 and passed very well with 9 aggregates. I was lucky that I got the tip about it early and took action before the arrangement was concluded. I cautioned the girl’s family to return the dowery of over 12 cows that they had received from the man,” Kamama added.

Ms. Kamama narrates how she saved a 13 years old girl from being married off during the PTY Isingiro district inception meeting.

She says whereas this girl was lucky to survive such inhuman and harmful acts, the vice of child marriages is rampant in the district and many cases have gone unreported. Kamama attributes this to poverty and lack of sensitization about the value of keeping girls at school.

The Kalangala district health officer (DHO) Dr. Tumusherure Edison while giving his remarks pointed out that cases of teenage pregnancies, early child marriages, rape, and drug abuse have greatly escalated ever since the pandemic broke out.

“When the COVID-19 crisis broke out, all our attention, resources, and efforts were diverted to its mitigation measures, creating gaps in the delivery of essential sexual reproductive health services. The closure of schools has also left young people at home and very idol hence exposing them to teenage pregnancy,” added Dr. Tumusherure.

The DHO further revealed that Isingiro is a host community to refugees in the Nakivale refugee resettlement camp and this, he says has seen various new harmful social-cultural practices that never used to exist emerge in the local community for example female genital mutilation (FGM) among the Somali refugees and drug abuse among others.

He lauded the project and committed to giving his full support to the partners and to see to it that issues affecting the young people in Isingiro district are tackled.

Ms. Nalubega Swaliha, the Isingiro district female youth counselor revealed that the young people in the district especially girls lack access to sexual reproductive health information and services and a convenient safe place to report cases of violence.

Ms. Nalubega Swaliha briefs the audience on the challenges the young people face in the district.

“Many of our girls here don’t know about family planning and how to protect themselves, they are unaware of their rights and that is partly the reasons why many of them get defiled and impregnated and yet they don’t report” she added.

Nalubega requested the project to consider establishing an Adolescents youth center in the district where the young people can freely interact, meet councilors and most importantly access SRHR service and information.

Mr. Mwesigye Patrick, the team leader of Uganda Youth and Adolescents health forum (UYAHF), one of the three implementing partners said that he is very excited for Power to Youth to be in Isingiro considering the fact that it is highly populated and a hosts district of one of the largest refugee community at Nakivale.

The UYAHF team leader Mr. Mwesigye Patrick in a meeting with religious and opinion leaders in Isingiro district

“In this project, we are three partners who will play different but joint roles. Men engage who are the lead partners will bring the expertise of men and boys, UYAHF brings the young people on board while EASSI brings the issues of women and girls on board,” Mwesigye added.

He noted that the PTY program understands that teenage pregnancy affects many girls in different ways including; ending their school, devastating health effects, stigmatization, infections, ruptured uterus, abstracted labor, low self-esteem, unsafe abortions, and therefore PTY comes to address these issues through accountability, advocacy, youth empowerment, capacity building, research, and learning. He called upon the different stakeholders to take up this project and own it so that it can create a lasting impact in the community.

Like in the other districts, the meeting was summarized by the formation of technical working groups which included representation from Health, education, community development, 3 young people, CSO representative, media, religious and cultural leader. And these will be accountable to the LC.5, RDC, and CAO. The sub-counties in which the program is going to be implemented were identified and the work plan was also prepared.

Implementing partners and their roles

Mr. Hassan Sekajooro, the executive director, Men Engage Uganda, the lead partner in the project said that their role is to see that men are fully represented and are brought at the forefront in ending the harmful practices. He says they will ensure that men are supportive of women to ensure development.

While Mr. Mwesige Patrick, the team leader, UYAHF said that the organization being youth-led is going to mobilize the young people and ensure their full participation and engagement in the project so that they are empowered and their voices are amplified.

And  Sheilah Kawamara Mishambi, the Executive Director – EASSI explained that as a women-led organization, they will focus on addressing gender inequality challenges among young girls and women and see how they can amplify their voices in Isingiro through the project.