By Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa/ Umoja Standard.
Kampala, Uganda: On Wednesday, Uganda’s Vice President Rtd. Major Jessica Alupo stressed the need for all stakeholders to work jointly in a bid to end child marriage and teenage pregnancies.
She made these remarks while presiding over the launch of the 5th National Girl Summit, 2022 at Hotel Africana.
She stated that child marriage affects both boys and girls but the highest burden has been found with girls. ‘This deprives them of their right to health, education, security and potential livelihood they deserve’.
“Child marriage is one of the most known forms of sexual and gender-based violence amongst girls. No child is physically or emotionally ready to become a wife, a husband or a parent”. VP Alupo.
“Uganda ranks as one the countries with higher rates of child and forced marriage. Available statistics indicated that 10% of girls are married off before the age of 15 and 40% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday which constitutes to 50% of young girls indulged into such”. VP Alupo added.
It is against this background that she appealed to all stakeholders at all levels to critically address the root causes of early and forced marriages. She stated that ‘these among others include poverty, gender inequality, gender-based discrimination, gender stereotypes and social norms that condone gender inequality and other harmful practices.
(L-R) Moses Ntenga-National Coordinator Girls Not Brides Uganda, Rtd. Major Jessica Alupo- Uganda’s Vice President and Jeremiah Nyagah- Programmes Director at World Vision Uganda are seen at the 5th National Girl Summit at Hotel Africana yesterday. Photo by Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa.
She mentioned the government has signed and ratified several international treaties including the convention on the rights of children which sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop to their full potential. These include protecting them from sexual violence and child marriage.
“Children have the same human rights as adults but also have specific rights that recognize their special needs. Children are neither property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity, they are human beings and are subject to their own rights”. She emphasized.
She declared government’s commitment towards realization of Sustainable Development Goals (1), (5) and (16) by 2030 including budgets for ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
Uganda’s Vice President Rtd. Major Jessica Alupo appends her signature on a commitment board at the Summit. Photo by Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa.
She added that the National Strategy 2022/2023 and 2026/2027 aims at ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda for ensuring prosperity and social economic transformation.
As a keynote speaker at the summit Ms. Mariam Wangadya, the Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) mentioned that the vice present ‘a double tragedy, not only the girl is robbed of her childhood but also her dignity and subjected to sexual and economic slavery as she is left to fend for children she ought not to have had, being a child’.
“In Kasese alone, Uganda Police reported over 10,000 cases of teenage pregnancy in 2020/2021. You can imagine how many cases went unreported, how many girls tried to have unsafe abortion and how many lives were lost as a result”. Ms. Wangadya.
She said that ‘according to UN Women, 6 out 10 girls have their sexual experience before the age of 15’. She mentioned that this abuse is always suffered at the hands of adults that are supposed to protect these girls like the fathers, uncles and teachers.
Ms. Mariam Wangadya, the Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) gives a keynote address during the summit. Photo by Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa.
She gave hope that Article 33 of Uganda’s constitution places a responsibility on state to enhance the welfare of women to enable them realize their full potential and to protect them, putting into account their unique status and natural maternal functions in the society and Article 34 places the primary duty for care of children on parents.
Ms. Wangadya added that Uganda has enacted several laws to operationalize constitutional provisions including Domestic Violence Act, 2010 and the Children Act, 2016 as amended.
She informed that Article 5 of the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) gives duty bearers a responsibility to modify the social and cultural patterns of the conduct of men and women with a view of achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary practices based on the idea of inferiority or superiority of either sex.
However, Hon. Geoffrey Macho the Vice Chairperson of Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Children (UPFC) and Busia Municipality legislator tasked government to thorough address the issue of child-trafficking saying it is not only done within Uganda’s boarders but also oversees.
“We have some labour companies that are taking under age girls to go and work in the Arab world, (16yrs, 15yrs) girls are going to work and at that age we believe, ‘these are young children who have not grown fully enough to be domestic workers. So, we request government to address the matter so that our children can be useful to the country”. Sought Hon. Macho.
Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Children (UPFC) members append their signatures on the commitment board as CSO members look on. Photo by Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa.
He brought to the attention of the congregation that in the report presented by Minister for Presidency Hon. Milly Babirye Babalanda regarding World AIDS Day, 2022 commemoration indicated that almost 20% of HIV has affected the girls and it was discovered that most of them were affected during the Covid 19 lockdown.
It is on this matter that he requested government on behalf of the forum to have an alternative to help the girl child mothers who got pregnant in Covid 19 as many were ashamed to go and write their exams and nothing has been done to help them, ‘as these issues have been isolated to NGOs and Civil Society Organizations largely’.
Speaking at the summit, Moses Ntenga who doubles as the National Coordinator of Girls Not Brides Uganda and Executive Director of Joy for Children Uganda stated that about 24% of already married women did it before the age of 18 and about 15% were married at 18, as well there are some cases where boys get married at a tender age.
“We think that this summit should continuously create a platform for stakeholders reflect on issues of child marriage and teenage pregnancy but also commit to address the vice”. Said Mr. Ntenga.
Moses Ntenga- the National Coordinator of Girls Not Brides Uganda and Executive Director of Joy for Children Uganda delivers his message at the 5th National Girl Summit, 2022 at Hotel Africana yesterday. Photo by Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa.
He said that according to their resCoordinator earch across Uganda, ‘school dropouts due to poverty, domestic violence, inadequate enforcement of policies, deep-rooted cultural practices like Female Genital mutilation (FGM) and others are the greatest contributors of the latter. ‘These result into teenage pregnancy, child labour and sexual slavery’.
He cited a need to break complex cultural norms, and having a multi-stakeholder engagement towards the cause.
He mentioned that Girls Not Brides Uganda (GNBU) decided to regionalize ‘Girl Summit’ in order to amplify voices of young people and their experience regarding the vice as well as engaging regional stakeholders on possible actions to curb it.
As co-organizers of the summit, World Vision’s Jeremiah Nyagah the Programmes Director at the Organization sought for creation of an environment that enables girls and boys to hope and aspire for a bright future that is free from gender bias.
“Uganda that is free from Child marriage and teenage pregnancy is possible if we worked jointly”. He stated.
He added that disasters affect the well-being of all children but interactions with communities show that girls will bear the biggest burden.
“It is girls who are married off to escape the economic hardship which puts their lives at a risk”. He cited.
The 5th edition of the National Girl Summit 2022 was joint organized by Joy for Children, World Vision Uganda and Plan International under the theme; Children Need a Society free from Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy!
Girls Not Brides is a global diverse network of over 1600 civil society organizations (CSOs) working to end child marriage across 100 countries in the world.
Different stakeholders pose for a general photo during the 5th National Girl Summit, 2022. Photo by Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa.
It constitutes of the Girls Not Brides Uganda (GNBU) – National Partnership chaired by Joy for Children Uganda and World Vision Uganda with a membership of 106 CSOs working at community, district, regional and national level committed to ending child marriage and enabling children live to their full potential.
GNBU has been a key partner to the Uganda government implementing the National Strategy to End Child Marriages and Teenage Pregnancy (2014/2015 -2019/2020) and continues to adapt the new strategy, the 2022/2023- 2026/2027.
It convenes annual girl summits aimed at intensifying policy and legal advocacy to protect girls from child marriage and amplify the urgency for adopting girls’ /children’s rights at community and national level.
GNBU intentionally gears towards empowerment of both girls and boys with correct information to enable them recognize child marriage and early pregnancy as a gross violation of their rights, and support them to take mitigating actions.
Child marriage is one of the significant drivers of adolescent pregnancy in Uganda. 8.9 million girls aged 10–19 is at risk of harmful practices, including child marriage in a country with the world’s lowest median age of 15 years.
A whopping 34% and 7% of girls in Uganda are married before their 18th and 15th birthdays respectively; while 6% of boys are married before their 18th birthday. Child brides are also at major risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.
The risk of maternal death is about 28% higher for mothers aged 15 to 19 than that of mothers aged 20 to 24 (UNFPA, 2020). COVID-19 pandemic led to closure of schools for 2 years which sparked child marriage cases, UNESCO 2021 projections showed that school closure increased the risk of child marriage by 25% annually.
The summit aimed at amplifying voices of children and duty bearers in advocating for an end to child marriage and teenage pregnancy, increased learning and knowledge management in tackling the vice and enhanced partnership of stakeholders.