DHO Butalejja Mr. Sirajje Kizito addressing participants at the young mother’s forum

On 24th June 2020 Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum in partnership with the Ministry of Health held a successful young mothers forum in Butalejja district at the health center III on ending teenage pregnancy and child marriages with adolescent girls and young women. Butaleja district located in Eastern Uganda is known by many as the district with the youngest grandmother at 28 years. Butaleja district is also popular for its poor SRHR indicators majorly characterized by high rates of teenage pregnancies, high cases of unsafe abortions, low uptake of family planning services, high cases of sexual and gender-based violence characterized by rape, defilement, and harassment which all usually goes unreported and unpunished.

To address some of these challenges young people under Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum and in partnership with the Butaleja District Health Office and the Eastern Region Youth Network on SRHR and Gender Equality held a Young Mother’s Forum on Ending Teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriages. The interactive Young Mother’s Forum drew 40 mothers and girls at high risk of sexual violence, teenage pregnancies, and child marriages. The forum was aimed at creating a platform for intergenerational dialogue, sharing and learning between adolescent girls, young women and health care providers on the basic concepts of safe motherhood, proven strategies to prevent teenage pregnancies as well as strategies to prevent and protect girls from sexual and gender-based violence and elimination of Child marriages. The young mother’s forum was graced by the DHO of Butalejja and members of the youth network which comprises members from the districts of Tororo, Butalejja, and Mbale and midwives  The youth network on Adolescents and youth SRHR aims to pursue youth advocacy and coordination for increased demand, access, and uptake of essential and quality youth-friendly SRHR services in the three districts.

During the sharing session, girls pointed out stigma and misconceptions and lack of information on sexual and reproductive health services as a leading cause for low uptake of family planning and hence explaining the high teenage pregnancy cases. Young people also sited biases and negative attitudes from health workers as one of the major reasons why most of them don’t prefer seeking SRH services. The noted that service providers also limited their range of choice to services and in some cases, some are discouraged from using family planning. Additionally, social-cultural norms, values, and traditions were also sighted out to be the leading causes of gender inequality and in most cases undermining women’s bodies and ability to makes independent decisions. One of the girls who preferred anonymity was quoted saying that in her community many pregnant teenage girls have been forced to marry the men who made them pregnant even when it’s against their will. She added that girls are later left in the house or sometimes chased away from the household since the men are living a polygamous lifestyle. The girls also noted a dare need for Safe abortion services since in most cases pregnancy is not by choice but rather a result of rape and sexual violence but in most cases, they are turned away by the health care providers due to restrictions on the law on the provision of abortions care. The health workers noted that they receive high numbers of girls seeking post-abortion care support which indicates high numbers of induced abortion. Sexual debuts also start as early as 8 years. This was noted by one of the midwives who has received many cases of girls as early as 8 seeking SRH services. She however noted that such cases are usually a result of rape and defilement.

After the experience sharing the health care providers took young people through a session on safe motherhood and they educated the girls on many issues ranging from: family planning including; the different types of family planning and how they are used, where to access Family Planning, how to use family planning, possible side effects and how to address them. The health care providers also spoke to the benefit of attending antenatal visits, delivering from a health facility under the care of a qualified health care provider, the need to seek postpartum family planning, postnatal care, and post-abortion care support in case of complications from an induced abortion. Additionally, the service providers also equipped the girls with information on exclusive breastfeeding, routine immunization, good feeding, and detection of early warning signs of pregnancy.

Furthermore, a lot of information was shared on prevention and reporting cases of sexual and gender-based violence, post-rape care support, and girls were encouraged to always rush to the hospital first after any case of rape to be able to access time-sensitive post-rape care services to prevent pregnancy and HIV infections. Girls were also encouraged to report cases of sexual exploitation and abuse using various existing reporting channels like the office of the district probation officer or to report directly to teachers, or health workers. Our team rushed in quickly to market the SUUBI HELPLINE a 24/7-hour youth dedicated telephone service where young people can call or send a WhatsApp message to get information on SRHR services, referrals to services, and to report cases of sexual violence and abuse.

In terms of the way forward, the young people called for:

1.The District Health Officer to schedule a slot on the agenda of the District health team meeting for a young mother to present the key outcomes of the young mother’s forum. The DHO was very supportive of this idea.

2.UYAHF to Support radio talk shows in the region where girls, health care providers, and policymakers will be hosted to raised awareness rally communities on enhancing uptake or safe motherhood concepts like; family planning, abortion, and post-abortion care support, post-rape care Support, reporting cases of sexual and gender-based violence, and child marriages.

3. Girls will be supported to form young mothers’ clubs affiliated to health facilities and the club members will receive training and capacity building support on SRHR issues. They will also be supported to undertake community sensitization targeting fellow peers with information on the need to increase uptake of family planning, post-rape, and post-abortion care services. The clubs will be supported by; Child fund Buteleja, Mbale Network of Young People Living with HIV, Busolwe Compassion international supported project, and a little bit of Hope Organisation.

4. The girls called on the Office of the District Health Officer appoint a focal person for adolescent health/SRHR. This will be followed up by the Awake Youth Relied Agency.

5. Conduct Community dialogues meant to increase the accessibility of family planning and information for young people. This activity will be implemented with the support of Child Fund Butaleja, A Little bit of Hope, Mbale Network of Young People living with HIV, Busolwe, Compassion international supported project.

6. Girls called for every last Friday of the month to be a youth-friendly service day.  Awake Youth Relief Agency to follow up on this.

 

Young mothers during a group discussion.