Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum -UYAHF, with funding from Universitair Centrum Voor Ontwikkelingssamenwerking -UCOS, held strategic buy-in and inception meetings in Kyegegwa district with intention to orient the different stakeholders on the three-year pilot project to draft a district action plan on ending teenage pregnancies and child marriages.

The meeting was majorly focused on sharing the project and its goals with the district officials. The exciting discussions attracted recommendations on how the project could be better run in order for it to strike the intended objectives.

The Resident District Commissioner for Kyegegwa, M/s Sharlon Ankunda and the Deputy Chairperson,Mr. Daniel Nimpamya during the meeting.

In attendance were, different key stakeholders including the District Health Officer, the Resident District Commissioner -RDC, the district health teams, a representative from the Chief Administrative Office, a representative from the Local Council five –LC5 Chairperson, District deputy Speaker, the District Education Officer -DEO, the District Political representatives mainly from the health, gender and social services committees.

Others were, district youth councillors, 4 representative in-charges from the health centres (including all those working in Kyaka II refugee settlement area), representatives from Good neighbours Uganda which is a Civil Society Organisations -CSOs working in Kyaka II settlement, 2 religious leaders and cultural leaders.

The deputy chairperson Local Council (L.C 5), Mr. Daniel Nampamya, while opening the inception meeting, welcomed the UYAHF team and its interventions towards what he described as a horrifying iniquity in the district.

He noted that the district eagerly awaits for an action plan, which he expressed optimism that it will provide a clear path-way to ending teenage pregnancies and child marriages in the district.

“Kyegegwa is a young district that faces many challenges, but the issue of teenage pregnancies and early marriages has severely affected us. Our population grows very fast against our insufficient resources and this has strained our planning”. He added that this has had social and economic challenges, hence affecting the development of the district.

Some of the invited district leaders, and heads of institutions discussing amongst themselves during the meeting.

Health centre in-charges shared some of the challenges they face while dealing with teenage pregnant mothers. Miss Nalubega Sarah, the in-charge at Hapuyo Health centre III and one of the immediate contact persons said, “Whenever girls get pregnant and they tend to try and or abort using treacherous methods.

Also, she declared that in her community, more than 25% of the girls are teenage mothers. She also revealed that most of the girls are afraid of being pregnant, they carry out harmful abortions and end up with sepsis in the long run.

She appealed to the district and UYAHF to ensure that they put their full commitment towards the development of the district action plan to ensure that the lives of girls are saved.

According to the district statistics office, a colossal 54. 1% of all ANC visits in the district were from teenagers. These standard figures further highlight the fact that teenage pregnancy is a grave problem in Kyegegwa district.

Despite positive advances, sexual and reproductive ill-health remains one of the greatest challenges facing young people in Uganda. Each year, hundreds of thousands of adolescent girls in Uganda get pregnant while others contract HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections -STIs.

The latest evidence from the Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2016 has showed a rise in teenage pregnancies at 25% from 24% in 2011.

This means, 1 in every 4 girls aged 15 -19 is already a mother or pregnant with her first child (UBOS 2016).

But for many of these girls, pregnancy has little to do with informed choices. Often times, it is a consequence of discrimination, rights violations (including; child marriage, rape, and defilement), inadequate education or sexual coercion, limited access to family planning and contraceptive services among others.

Winnie Apio, the Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme Officer -SRHR at Uganda Youth and Adolscents Health Forum -UYAHF presenting to participants.

More than 300,000 teenagers who get pregnant annually also account for the bulk of unwanted pregnancies, which end up in unintended births or unsafe abortions (estimated at 24%), increasing the risk of maternal mortality and morbidity among adolescent girls.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) are also among the most harmful practices, practiced in Uganda that stands in the way of girls’ potential affecting millions of girls every year.

The 2015 UNFPA Uganda data indicated that 1 in every 2 girls is married before age 18, 10% of women aged 20-24 report being married before ages 15 while 40% of women of age 20-24 report being married by ages 18. FGM is also estimated at 1% among girls 15-19 years.

Edward, the district bio-statistician said, “The issue of teenage pregnancy and child marriage is something that we, as district officials know has been happening. It is very important for us to ensure that we respect and stringently implement laws that deter these practices’ the deputy speaker pointed out during the discussion.

During the launch late last month, the district chairman noted that Kyegegwa; due to it being a refugee-host district on top of mythical fare-tales residents hold has suffocated the district with teenage pregnancies and child marriages, which has resulted to over population.

The meeting ended with a unified and strong commitment by the district to work together with UYAHF and UCOS to develop a Kyegegwa district action plan which they will be implementing in all their work.

The Resident District Commissioner Kyegegwa District giving her closing remarks

The Resident District Commissioner –RDC- Shallon Ankunda said many of these issues have affected the youth and led to increased school drop outs, which are also prominent among many poor, marginalised and vulnerable adolescent girls and young women in Uganda with as twice as many girls missing school after experiencing sexual violence compared to boys and 1 in 4 children mission school after experiencing physical violence.

According to UNICEF data in 2013, 3 in 10 girls drop out of school in Uganda due to pregnancy related complications, while 1 in 10 miss classes or drop out of school completely due to lack of sanitary materials to use during their menstruation period and related menstruation stigma.

M/s Ankunda the RDC urged different stakeholders in the meeting to implement different lessons from the meeting.

“It is useless for us to come here, discuss then after go home and sit, we have to implement what we have learnt here” said Ankunda.

The District Health officer, DR Balinda Julius closely following the proceedings during the meeting.