Government Should Introduce Sex Education to Curb Teenage Pregnancies

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In recent days, the media has been awash with cases of teenage girls giving birth. Cases of pupils giving birth during national exams have been reported. Majority of these girls are children below 18 years and from rural schools. Questions worthy asking are; why are more teenagers getting pregnant today? Why rural schools mostly? Who is responsible?What can be done to rectify this? For matters of clarity, teenage pregnancies are pregnancies by girls below 18 years.

The government should encourage sex education in schools to curb teenage pregnancies and early marriages

In my own analysis, the problem of teenage pregnancy is a problem majorly caused by ignorance. Most of these girls are ignorant on any sexual and reproductive changes on their bodies. Children in Kampala are most exposed to sex materials like pornography, but rarely get pregnant? This is because children in Kampala are exposed to sex but in the equal sense have knowledge on preventive measures.

Early Pregnancy is a predicament that partially reflects the disintegration in traditional family values. In Uganda today, a child is more likely to know about kissing by age of 5, have a boy friend/girl friend by age 12 and have their first sex encounter by 15 years. Teenage pregnancy is a manifestation of broken cultures, shattered families and a popularized sex culture in Uganda.

Already Uganda is ranked sixth in the world in terms of early marriages, with 49% of all girls in Uganda married off before their eighteenth birthday. This is not a record to be proud of. A close discussion with these young mothers shows that most of them lack basic sex education and out of curiosity the end up being pregnant. Unfortunately, the legal framework in Uganda remains peripheral in addressing teenage pregnancies, often providing lacunas for perpetrators to go Scott free by marrying their ‘prey’.

For instance the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act (Section 2) and the Customary Marriage Registration Act (Section 11) put the age of marriage at 16 years, yet the Constitution (Article 31 (1)) puts the age of consent to marriage at 18 years. Although the constitution is the supreme law in Uganda, weaknesses in other laws are often exploited to the detriment of young girls.

Teenage pregnancies affect government programs like poverty alleviation plans, reducing Infant and Maternal Mortality and Universal Primary Education. Research shows that in every 100 girls that get pregnant while in school, less than 15% go back after giving birth. A recent study by ANPPCAN further shows that the current school dropout rate for child mothers and other vulnerable children in Kitgum and Iganga districts is at 65%.

Teenage pregnancy can be attributed to the high school dropouts in UPE schools. The Ministry of Health estimates shows that over 6,000 girls die annually due to pregnancy related complications.Consequently teenage pregnancy and early marriage will negatively impact on Uganda’s performance towards the achievement of the MDGs on universal education, maternal and infant mortality.

Plain speaking, a child cannot take care of a fellow child either economically or emotionally. Most of these girls, overwhelmed by the magnitude of motherhood, abandon their kids in dustbins and pits, while others are left to face health effects like fistula and prolonged labour.

Our cultures have found marriage as the remedy for teenage pregnancy. However, this is wrong. We need to create choices and opportunities for child mother if we are to fight poverty and illiteracy. This is because research shows girls that get pregnant while young are less likely to go back to school, will mostly be married off to their abusers, have no say in their marriage relationships, will mostly likely bear many children, will most likely be poor and have more chances of suffering domestic violence.

A child marriage not only denies a girl of her child hood, but robes her of her innocence and right to education and a better future. Globally, one third of women aged between 20-24 years are first married before they reach eighteen years, and again one in three enter marriage before the age of 15years. In Uganda the average age of sex debut is 16, and this has been manifested in the media with children producing as young as 12.

A one on one discussion with child mothers shows that most of them get pregnant due to curiosity and on their very first sexual encounter. Ignorance is a major contributing factor to early pregnancy off course not ruling out other factors like poverty, teenage pressure and the weak bargaining position women have in society.

As a matter of urgency, the government needs to introduce sex education in primary and secondary school. Senior women teachers and counselors as well as wardens can do this at least once every month to equip young girls with survival skills and basic sex education. Girls who are more informed about their reproductive health and sex are more likely to make informed decisions and less likely to get pregnant while in school.

There is need to fill the gap in enforcement of laws against defilement. Government and civil society organization should combine hands in sensitization and rehabilitation of child mothers. ANPPCAN has since the beginning of the year been rehabilitating child mother in Kitgum and Iganga Districts. These are innocent girls, who fall prey to defilers. They deserve a second chance.

Finally, one of the major contributing factors to early marriage is lack of age documentation. Most girls are married off by the mere fact that they have developed breasts, irrespective of their age. There is an urgent need of the recently first track birth registration as provided for in the law, to ensure that age is verified before marriage.

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