Leaders in the Busia district have agreed to work together to combat harmful practices such as sexual gender-based violence, child marriages, and teen pregnancy, which are prevalent in the district.

They made the pledge during the Post International Day of the Girl Child community citizen Barraza organized by the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum, Menengageuganda, and The Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) under the Power to Youth Program held at Madibira Primary School on October 14, 2021.

The Baraza, which was held under the theme “Addressing teenage pregnancies through community-based solutions in the digital era,” drew over 90 participants, including teachers, parents, political, religious, and cultural leaders, district officials, and young people who committed to putting an end to issues affecting the girl child.

The Busia district currently has a teenage pregnancy rate of 29 percent, which is higher than the national rate of 25 percent. Only in the last 18 months has the district recorded over 9,000 cases.

During the event, Ms. Amoit Caroline, the Busia district Senior Community Development Officer (CDO), revealed that alcoholism and cross-border trade are two of the major causes of teenage pregnancies in the district.

Amoit Caroline, Senior Community Development Officer presents during the Community Baraza

Poor referral systems, low awareness about SGBV, and an uncoordinated fight against SGBV, according to Mr. Anthony Egesa, the Busia Chief Administrative Officer, have led to an increase in the rate of the practice, as many cases remain unreported and unsolved.

He further says that parental neglect is a major issue in Busia. He claims that most parents focus on income-generating activities and have allowed their children, particularly young girls, to grow up without supervision, resulting in them doing whatever they learn from television, social media, or their peers.

During the interactions, it was also revealed that young girls in Busia are forced to marry because it is considered bad luck for them to menstruate at home. this cultural belief has seen girls as young as ten years old being forced into marriage.

The adolescent girls revealed that one of the most difficult challenges they face is a lack of accurate SRHR information and services. They also accused health workers of harassing them and being harsh on them whenever they sought SRHR services, particularly family planning, causing them to avoid health facilities.

They believe that using digital technology such as phones is the best option, but the majority of them cannot afford smartphones, access data, and others misuse the phones.

“When some of them fall in love, they take nude pictures and share them with their partners, and after they break up, one of them shares them on social media, which has caused a lot of depression, especially among girls.” Nalule Miriam, a young woman, says

Nalule Miriam, a young person from Busia  highlights that cyberbullying is a key issue affecting young people resulting from the use of the internet

According to Miriam, there is a need for young people to be trained and orientated on how to use the internet so that they are aware of the risks involved in some of the actions they take while using these platforms.

Mrs. Caroline Acom, the in-charge of the children and family protection unit- Busia central police, noted during the panel discussion on assessing the performance of the districts’ SGBV response mechanisms that there are many different ways for the general public to work together with the police to end SGBV, including reporting cases and cooperating with police.

Dr. Dick Wamaena, the Assistant district health officer (ADHO), assured the adolescents that health services at government facilities are free. He committed that the district health office will recruit more health workers specifically those who will help at the youth-friendly corner to ease access to SRHR service.

Ms. Ajiambo Ann, a teacher, stated that there is an urgent need for SRHR information and services to be provided to girls in particular, as well as the creation of venues for sharing life-changing stories, but most importantly, there is a need for sensitization and awareness creation.

The Busia district education officer (DEO) Ms. Mwesigwa Harriet pledged to stand firm and collaborate with consortium partners to find solutions to issues affecting girls in Busia. The religious leader committed to continuing to engage parents in guiding the young generation, particularly the girl child so that she can achieve her life goals.