By Sam Agona
January 22nd, 2015 saw UNFPA Uganda, UNICEF Uganda and DFID UK come together for a common cause; advocating for the ending of female genital mutilation, child and forced marriages in Uganda. While this phenomenon sounds more of a rural problem, several testimonies were recorded from urban areas too. Numerous indications of challenges faced by the girl child were made by teenagers who attended the summit however the girls were only a handful fraction of girls who face several challenges in Uganda.
Young girls like the pictured are at highly at risk (Photo Credit: UNICEF Uganda)
As Rachael Ninsiima notes, in Uganda, less than 1% of girls who give birth below 18, do attain a university degree by age 30; a trend that also affects their children’s education cycle. About 60% of children born to teen mothers earn elementary education compared to 80% of children of later child bearers.
Teenagers Judith mentioned that child and forced marriages are as a result mistreatment from step-mothers making young girls go out to look for comfort; Jolly echoed that bad peer groups cause girls to think they are in love yet they (girls) are still young; Sheila on the other hand, resonated that poverty has a great deal in promoting child marriage, because men contribute financially to the girl's family. On a conservative note, one girl disparaged that culture was giving parents a leeway to marry off girls at young age, further contextualizing it by citing that girls of Indian heritage were married off to ensure they commit to one man while young.
The Author however, thinks young girls are pushed out of school to marry early as an alternate means to the tedious schooling/ education process in Uganda. According to ANPPCAN 2010, enrollment rates in primary schools stood at 97.1%, dropout rates stood at 67.6% of the enrolled percentage; with girl child secondary enrolment at a paltry 21%. Further disparaging is the prevalence of corporal punishment in several schools regardless of government ban in 2011, thus some form of institutionalized violence meted against school going teenagers by both teachers and parents, making school undesirable.
Miss Uganda, Leah Kalanguka speaking words of inspiration to young girls (Photo Credit: UNICEF Uganda)
According to Uwezo 2010, only 4% of P.3 pupils could read a P.2 level story fluently, showing how challenging education is to some pupils. This forces girls to look for easy options in marriage; partly accounting for 7,564 defilement cases reported in Uganda Annual Crime and Crime Report, 2010. The rise in child abuse rates has been aggravated by an inverse in prosecution rates. Markedly, out of the defilement cases reported to police in 2010, only 3,401 (45%) were taken to court, leaving a total of 4,163 (55%) cases either dropped or not followed up.
Worth recalling is that, the MDGs 2015 planned for girl children and women generally. As a signatory to Beijing Platform of Action following the 54th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women of March 2nd, 2010, Uganda is committed to not only promoting but also achieving MDG.3, promotion of gender equality and women empowerment. Women cannot be strong figures in society when girl children are being violated by parties supposed to protect them. The National Development Plan of Uganda spells out a set of cultural practices and perceptions that are negative towards girls’ elevation.
Girls telling their story using music dance and drama joined by Minister Karoro Okurut (Photo Credit: UNFPA Uganda)
Despite the NDP, gender based violence continues to be a major concern in rural Uganda. According to Sexual and Reproductive Health Report, 2013 at least 59% of women who have ever been married experience some form of physical or sexual violence. Women comprise about 70% agricultural population, they experience unequal access to, and control over, productive resources, notably land, limiting their ability to raise productivity and move out of subsistence agriculture. Such a situation is exacerbated in circumstances where young women are forcefully married to men; they are void of bargaining power to own any resources, creating a vicious circle of an uncouth situation.