When giving second chance to a teenage mother is beneficial
todayOctober 16, 2021
By Sabir Musa Memories of 2015 still remains fresh in the mind of 20-year-old Doris Wadiko, a Senior Three student of Oleba Seeds Secondary school in Maracha District, West Nile sub region. Doris was just 15-years old when she conceived that year, forcing her to drop out of school. Her parents shortly forced her to get married at a tender age. “When I conceived, the situation at our family changed completely especially from my dad, he was angry and attempted to chase me away from home when I told them that am pregnant”, she recalls with tears rolling down her cheeks. “They called the clan members, asked me few questions and they immediately arranged for me to take them to the boy’s family after narrating what happened”. Life was never the same for the new young “bride” as she lacked the basic necessities to run her new found home. She soon escaped to look for an opportunity to work as a maid in Koboko District located in the North of West Nile sub region, bordering South Sudan. She was taken in by a woman who employed her as her maid. The woman’s husband later started making sexual advances, forcing her to return home at the dismay of her parents. Doris gets second chance Back home, she landed on an opportunity to be enrolled back to school by Amani Initiative, a local Non-Governmental Organization NGO, which gave her a second shot for school life. Amanai Initiative is a local NGO established by a group of young people in Maracha District with its main focus on preventing and responding to Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy in West Nile sub region. She would later give birth and continue with her education with the help of the Initiative. Recent cases By December last year, an estimated 40,000 cases of teenage pregnancies were recorded from different districts of the region. This figure short-up during the prolonged Covid-19 lockdown imposed by government to control the spread of the virus that has now seen learners staying home for close to 2 years. Yumbe District alone recorded 3,284 cases of teenage pregnancy as of August last year, statistics which have continued to worry local authorities on whether the girls will return to school after giving birth or when government will fully re-open learning institutions. “The schools are closed, so you will not know whether these children will go back to school or not even some have decided to get married”, says Jamal Kiira, the Yumbe Assistant District Community Development Officer. Yumbe is not the only district in West Nile with cases of high teenage pregnancies. Recent reports from different districts indicate 5,890 cases were reported in Zombo, over 529 in Moyo, 1,610 in Koboko between June 2020 and July 2021. This worrying trend is bothering stakeholders in the region, with some wondering and asking how the quality and future of these girls will be if they don’t go back to school. This also follows a concern resulting from an independent study that only 2 out of 10 teenage mothers are given a second chance to continue with their education in West Nile region. Situations in Sub Saharan Africa. The combination of school closures due to COVID-19, and policies and practices in some countries across sub-Saharan Africa that do not allow pregnant girls or young mothers to continue their education, are putting many countries on a collision course in which an estimated one million girls in the region may not be allowed back into schools once they reopen. Across sub-Saharan Africa, World Vision offices report a similar pattern. In Krachi West in Ghana, a project has reported an almost nine-fold increase in teen pregnancies during the lockdown. Between October 2018 and September 2019, World Vision projects in Lupembe in Malawi saw 33 child marriages and 4 teen pregnancies. In the ten months since, the same area has already seen 49 marriages and 7 pregnancies. About 13,000 girls drop out of school each year in Kenya due to pregnancy; given the increases that are already being seen, this number could more than double. The causes of teenage pregnancy vary and can relate to sexual violence, child marriage, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, and lack of access to education. While the root causes need to be addressed, the consequence cannot be the removal of one’s right to education. Allowing pregnant girls and young mothers to continue their education is a sensitive issue, as evidenced by the range of laws and policies on the matter across sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries, like Tanzania, Togo, and Equatorial Guinea, outright expel pregnant girls and young mothers. Many more countries, including Kenya and Ghana, have re-entry policies that facilitate the return of pregnant girls and young mothers of school-going age to primary and secondary school. Nevertheless, practice often differs from policy, and sometimes requires girls to take a one or two year break before re-enrolling or pass specific exams. Success story But 34-year-old, Judith Bako, the former Maracha District Youth Councilor, who conceived as a teenager appeals to parents for support towards these girls, asking them to offer them advice to ensure they continue with their education for them not to victim again. Bako, now a mother of two, openly shares her experience after she was given an opportunity by her mother to go back to school, saying that all hopes are not lost if the girls are well guided in the second change. “Like for me I conceived much earlier but with a lot of constant encouragement by the people around me, I was able to keeps hopes high. I managed to go back to school and continue with my studies until I started nurturing political ambitions. So this is where I am today. If I had given up those days, then just maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today. But above all parents must start engaging their children on this issue of sexual education much earlier. It is important”, she says. Ministry guidelines on re-admission of teenage mothers The revised guidelines by Ministry of Education and Sports on the prevention and management of teenage pregnancy in school settings among others provides that, the young mothers shall be allowed to be admitted back to school unconditionally once the baby is at least six months. All schools shall prioritize the admission of the girls after pregnancy and parents shall report the school that has refused to admit their daughter to the District Education Officer. The guideline also tasks head teachers, district education officers to assist such girls to be re-admitted to other schools to avoid stigma. Patrick Dranimva, the Programs Officer at Amani Initiative says, “A girl getting pregnant while in school is one thing and continuing with education is another so they should not be interrupted”. However, religious and cultural leaders are considered as key pillars in fighting teenage pregnancy and child marriage vices, it is the reason Patrick Dranimva calls for their full involvement. “Child marriages are always blessed by cultural leaders and some religious leaders. These are the most listened to people in the community, they should never be left out in addressing the vices but rather brought on board”, he says. Religious leaders’ call Arua Muslim district Kadhi, Sheikh Abujafar Shaban equally advices community to consider education of girl-child and offer second change in education after she conceives. “Islam is a universal religion what man sees in eyes wrong, no one should think that Islam is going to see it right and the religion goes with community. Early marriage is not welcomed in Islam, we have been fighting this perception that girls should drop school and get marriage in rewards for dowry”, he said. Minister weighs-in Uganda’s State Minister for Primary Education, Dr. Joyce Moriku Kaducu also voiced her concern over failure by some community to give the girls second chance in education. She advises that, skills training should be an alternative for those who cannot go back for a formal education. “Even if you cannot continue with the formal education, you can join the informal sector, get something to do so that your future is brightened. We have people who are good at carpentry like making chairs, stools and the rest. People are also good in sports, agriculture and the rest of these vocational practices”, she said. Skills training opportunity The West Nile Youth Empowerment Centre through a project dubbed, “Skilling Teenage Mother's In West Nile” is planning to implement a hands on training, intending to pass on vocational training and skills to 600 most disadvantaged teenage mothers to improve their socio-economic lives. According to the project detail, “200 teenage mothers will be trained in Tailoring, 50 in Hair Dressing and 350 in various craft skills” According to the Ministry of Health, 25 per cent of Ugandan teenagers become pregnant by the age of 19 while close to half of the girls are married before their 18th birthday and continue having babies into their mid-40s.
COVER PHOTO: Several cases of teenage pregnancies have been reported in West Nile region.